Beaten, Burned, and Raped

Hundreds of complaints allege that a Central Florida neurologic treatment center is a house of horrors

When Joe Cox was born 17 years ago, his umbilical cord wrapped twice around his neck and nearly strangled him. He survived, but his brain was permanently damaged. Today he has an IQ of 68, suffers from impulsive behavior, and is unable to care for himself. His father, the Rev. James Cox, a community leader and minister at West Lauderdale Baptist Church, has sent him to special schools and provided him with high-level psychiatric care, but Joe has never shown much progress.

So this past November, when the state Department of Children and Families referred Joe to a residential brain-injury treatment center called the Florida Institute for Neurologic Rehabilitation (FINR) and promised to pay the hefty $93,000 bill for three months of professional care, the reverend jumped at the chance. The state gave FINR a glowing recommendation, and its Internet site shows a beautiful campus on 900 acres in rural Wauchula, roughly 70 miles southeast of Tampa. So Cox made the four-hour drive from Fort Lauderdale to the facility and left Joe there with the hope of a breakthrough.

Instead the sole thing broken was Joe's spirit; the care he received was horrific, his father says. Joe was given only nominal treatment, lived in poor conditions, and was beaten, burned, and raped by developmentally impaired teens who lived with him, Reverend Cox alleges.

The Rev. James Cox (left) and his son Joe helped to uncover a plethora of problems at a state-contracted mental-health facility
Preston
The Rev. James Cox (left) and his son Joe helped to uncover a plethora of problems at a state-contracted mental-health facility

Cox helped spark a state investigation at the center, and he and his attorney, John Contini, plan to file a civil lawsuit against FINR this week. "This is egregious, and it's against the law," Cox declares. "This place has been able to get away with it because many of the residents are foster kids and they are mentally ill. They messed with the wrong kid when they messed with Joe."

True enough. Cox is a formidable activist; he's been involved in countless charities and manages government-backed, faith-based programs that have served thousands of at-risk Broward County children. And he's helped to uncover a maze of problems at FINR, a for-profit company that houses 95 developmentally impaired children and adults in its facility. Cox's complaint was just one of more than 200 abuse allegations filed against FINR in the past two years, according to state officials, who say that several residents have suffered serious injuries there at the hands of other residents or staff members.

A DCF memo dated March 7, 2001, indicates the severity of the problems at FINR, which has many public contracts. "We have observed an escalating pattern of increased abuse reports and injuries," wrote DCF administrator Sue Gray. "Underlying most of the concerns is the inadequate and under-trained and unsupervised direct care staff.... I would strongly suggest that any of you who have children in this facility need to explore other options for their care."

Cox says he had no idea about FINR's problems when he sent Joe, but during his first visit with his son there, he noticed the residents seemed out of control. Once, the reverend says, he saw a teen holding a large nail and chasing a staff member. "The whole place was chaotic," Cox reports.

And Joe hated it. After a Christmas trip to visit relatives in North Carolina, the boy, who weighs 300 pounds, threatened to jump out of the car if he were returned to FINR. Still, Cox kept his son there, believing the facility might be beneficial in the long run.

In a January phone call, Joe told his father that other teens had beaten him and burned him with cigarettes. Cox complained to staff members, who promised to file an abuse report; he alleges they never did. On February 2, a Friday, Cox called the facility and said he was coming to pick up Joe, but an FINR doctor insisted the boy needed seven more days of treatment before he could be released. Cox drove to Wauchula anyway, arriving at about 11 p.m., and signed out his son. Then they went to a restaurant in nearby Avon Park, where the father saw signs of abuse. "I looked on Joe's head, and I saw this big sore," explains the father. "Then he lifted up his T-shirt, and his entire chest was covered with bruises, burns, cuts, scars, and rashes. I was very angry. They wanted seven more days with Joe so the cuts and bruises would heal before I saw them."

Cox immediately took his son to a nearby hospital and called the state's abuse hotline. The injuries were documented in photographs, medical reports, and drawings. But it wasn't until a couple weeks later that Joe described in graphic detail how three other patients had raped him, Cox says. Joe gave the names of staff members who, he alleged, witnessed the rape but did nothing. He also told stories of other teens who had been abused.

During the investigation state officials issued a moratorium on placements at the center and forced FINR to increase training for staff, add more clinicians to the payroll, and get rid of several top staffers, including former chief operations officer Anthony Ciccarelli. Kevin O'Keefe, who replaced Ciccarelli as COO, says the center cooperated fully with the state and has improved its services. He acknowledges the numerous complaints, including Cox's, but claims they are unfounded.

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6 comments
Jnnbeno
Jnnbeno

you are dam right, yiu call the dcf, and they buy their big marketings with with advertisementsx.  i receive the Bar Journal, one big page to try to have the Personal injuries clients.  THIS HOUSE OF HORRORS SHOULD BE CLOSED URGENTLY,

Jnnbeno
Jnnbeno

i would like to urgently have my son that had been tortured, broke his hip, and being beaten. harrassment and intigated, he rather die than being at FINR the house of horror\s, which it is. C oup from insurance company to get him out of the system, ANYBODY PLEASE HELP ME, I CAN WRIT5E A BOOK AVOUT THIS FACILITY IN WAUCHULA, FLORIDA.  EVERYTHING JOE COX HAD SAID, THE SAME TO MY ONLY SON, WHO WAS AN "A" STUDENT IN COLLEGE.   HE WAS WORKING FOR THE CITY OF HOLLYWOOD, AND WAS HURT ON THE JOB, "SEVERE BRAIN I NJURY"  I TOOK CARE OF HIM EBEN WITH SOME PARALYSIS FOR 15 YRS.  OUT OF THE BLUE, THE CARRIER PAID THE JUDGES TO REMOVE ME MY PLENARY GUARDIANSHIP, MY SON HAVE ULCERS, AFRAID OF TALKING, ABSOLUTELY N O TREATEMENTS, AND YOU SEE THOSE CHAIR-SITTERS PROVOKING HIM AND NOBODY HAVE PSYCHOLOGY TO CONTROL THEIR EMOTIONS. I WANT MY SON LIKE YESTERDAY.IT IS THE WORST PLACE IN THE PLA NET. THE PATIENTS ATE TREATED WORST THAN THE CRIMINAL IN JAIL. PLEASE CONTACT ME ANYTIME AND LEAVE A MESSAGE I WILL RETURN YOUR CALL. (954) 367-2466,  E-MAIL jnnbeno@aol.com.  please help me getting my son outof this house of horrors.

cory bailey
cory bailey

I am currently a client at FINR and leaving very soon, as of one week, not because of abuse but neglect. I am a very high functioning client and require almost no assistance from staff. But nonetheless, I have only been here for 4 months and on 16 separate occasions they have ran out of one or another of my medications.. pretty much all of which I need to function normally due to narcolepsy, insomnia, ADD, sports for pain control, and others... they would not fill the persciptions for days even weeks I would have to go without it.. I have not slept in for nights because they ran out of my sleeping pill and last week they ran out of my suboxone and I went into severe withdraw for over 36 hours, receiving no care or medical attention from the nursing staff.. And I have also witnessed countless staff beating clients for almost no reason at all but what seems like for their own entertainment.. FINR should be shut down for good and many of the people who work here need to be in prison..

Sheila
Sheila

Wish I had seen all of this before admitting my TBI son there in 2007. Everyone including attorney's raved about the place. My son was abused by staff by doing a choke hold on him, and two staff members sat on him while he was wheezing and begging for help. His casemanager watched and was the one who aske them to do it over something very small. Then his roomate was beaten by an employers late at night. He just woke the young man up and beat him for no reason. My son hated it, but pretended he was asleep and reported it as soon the staff member left. They told us he would be fired, DCF supposedly came and investigated. The boy had bruises all over him but can't talk. Two nights later the staff member was working again. The Director told us "you can't believe anything a brain injured patients says"We went on line and found they had killed a boy doing same hold. We drove down the next morning and took him out. While we were there 2 states were there investigating allegations of abuse by their clients. So nothing changed. Why are they still in business???

someone
someone

I hope you've seen the July 2012 article about abuse at FINR in the Bloomberg news: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-07-24/brain-injured-abuse-at-for-profit-center-scandalizes-u-s-.html

 

There is a new facebook page too  https://www.facebook.com/ProtectPeopleWithBrainInjuries

 

Advice:  Don't use any part of your son's name on your posts or things may get worse for him at FINR.  You may be able to edit your posts here so no part of your name can be connected to your son.  If you can't, don't worry because this is a 2001 article so I doubt too many people still look at it.

 

Best of luck to you.  I am praying for you and your son.

 
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