Judge rules against Dept. of Health in high-profile rehab center case

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An administrative law judge Friday found that that the Florida Department of Health used an invalid rule in a high-profile crackdown against the Florida Institute of Neurologic Rehabilitation.

The department and other state agencies went to the Florida Institute for Neurologic Rehabilitation in August amid questions about quality of care and followed up by ordering the discharge of 50 residents. But the institute fought the department in the state Division of Administrative Hearings, challenging a rule that deals with what are known as “transitional living facilities.” The department rule said such facilities could only provide services to people who have suffered traumatic brain or spinal-cord injuries, such as from accidents or gunshots.

The institute, licensed as a transitional living facility, also served people with other types of brain injuries, such as from strokes. But in a 43-page order Friday, Administrative Law Judge Suzanne Van Wyk found that the department overstepped its legal authority in limiting transitional living facilities to people with traumatic brain or spinal-cord injuries. “The department offered no testimony as to the factual basis for distinguishing between the causes of brain injury or any rationale, other than its incorrect statutory interpretation, for limiting treatment at TLFs to patients with traumatic injury,” the judge wrote.

“We are relieved that Judge Van Wyk has ruled in our favor today, as we truly believe that we are the very best and often the only option for these patients who have suffered a head injury,” said Joseph Brennick, owner and CEO of FINR.  “For  more than two decades, we have provided outstanding care to our patients with brain injuries, including those with traumatic injuries, and we look forward to continuing to serve them.”

The institute began facing heavy scrutiny last year after reports by Bloomberg News about conditions at the facility.

The institute early this month filed for bankruptcy.

Material from the News Service of Florida was used in this post.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.