BBI Board Member Matthew Dietz Talks about Medically Fragile Children on America Tonight

March 25, 2014

Watch: Kids with special needs: a ‘gravy train’ for Florida nursing homes?

by Sheila MacVicar

America Tonight

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — At Kidz Korner, children in wheelchairs sit parked in a hallway. It’s a nursing home, but looks more like a storage facility for kids. And it’s been Andrew’s home for more than a year.

Andrew was an outgoing high school senior. His goal was to become a firefighter, but a freak incident changed his life. Just after his 18th birthday, he had a heart attack that starved his brain of oxygen. Since he left the hospital three years ago, he’s lived in nursing homes.

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Nursing homes' 'gravy train'

Deontae Shuler, 11, was struck by a car while riding his bike, and is now a quadriplegic. In a little more than a year at Kidz Korner, he endured bedsores and two broken legs. He describes the conditions and treatments as “terrible.”

“Nasty food,” he said. “Some of the [certified nursing assistants] were rough … When they change you, they turn you hard and everything.”

Like Martinez, the Shulers didn't think they could get nursing care from the state in their home.

“We were told there was a government cutback on nursing care where we wouldn't get it full time,” grandmother Gheri Shuler said. “So it wasn't an option.”

When he was 8, Deontae was struck by a car while riding his bike and became quadriplegic.
[When he was 8, Deontae was struck by a car while riding
his bike and became quadriplegic.]
America Tonight

After the problems began, she tried to move Deontae out of Kidz Korner. “They didn't want him to leave,” she said. “That was part of their gravy train.”

Nursing home care is expensive. Florida pays nursing homes up to $550 a day for children — twice what it pays for elderly patients and 20 percent more than full-time nursing care at home.

Attorney Matt Dietz helped the Shulers finally get Deontae out of Kidz Korner. He’s currently suing the state, on behalf of medically fragile children and their families, to force it to pay for in-home care, a suit joined by the Civil Rights division of the federal Department of Justice. Dietz said Florida has acknowledged the extra expense of institutionalizing children, and that each child in a nursing home costs the taxpayer $250,000 to $300,000 a year.

For Florida nursing homes, having a child patient is like having an annuity, says attorney Matt Dietz, who is suing the state on behalf of medically fragile children and their families.
[For Florida nursing homes, having a child patient is like having an annuity, says attorney Matt Dietz, who is suing the state on behalf of medically fragile children and their families.]
America Tonight

“It's a financial incentive to have these children at a nursing home,” Dietz said. “It's an annuity.”

The federal lawsuit alleges that the state is needlessly warehousing about 250 children who are sick or severely disabled, isolating them from family and community in a violation of their civil rights.

“Nursing homes are not an appropriate place for any child,” Dietz said. “A child should be with their family.”

In a 2012 letter to Department of Justice, Florida social services officials called the allegations “unfounded.”

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