In an expose published on March 23, 2018, the New York Post details the appalling abuse to one of Phillips & Paolicelli’s clients:
Robert Osborne still has vivid memories of the twin phone calls he received the night of his sister’s death at a New Jersey home for the disabled.
The first came completely out of the blue — a staffer told him that his sister Susan had choked on a cheeseburger and was being rushed to the hospital.Minutes later, a Bellwether Behavioral Health supervisor called back to inform him that she was dead.
It was May 30, 2017. Susan was just 58 years old.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Osborne, 53, recalled of the 7:30 p.m. phone call. “I really thought Susan was going to outlive us.”Susan, who suffered from cerebral palsy and severe developmental disabilities, required her food to be chopped into small pieces. She also needed constant reminders to eat slowly.
Authorities say those things never happened on the day she died.
Staffer Nijera McQueen was criminally charged with neglect in July 2017, records show. A court hearing is scheduled for next month.
The Osborne family last week filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Bellwether Behavioral Health in Essex County Supreme Court.
Bellwether, which is owned by multi-billion dollar private equity firm Wellspring Capital, is no stranger to such allegations.
Initially called Advoserv, the company changed its name after a series of reports in ProPublica highlighted serious alleged abuses.
The stories detailed how Advoserv’s Carlton Palms Educational Facility in Florida “is one of a dozen residential programs nationwide where two or more children have died in separate incidents from potentially preventable causes.”
In one case, a 14-year-old autistic girl died after she was tied to a bed and chair at night in June 2013. State investigators concluded that Paige Lunsford suffered a “wrongful death due to medical neglect probable.”
The facility’s head nurse violated state law by failing to get Paige proper medical help, the investigators said.
Other allegations of abuse in Florida centers include a patient being punched in the stomach and another kicked in the face after refusing to lie down to be put in a restraint, according toProPublica.
In Maryland, state officials removed all children from Advoserv facilities after a 15-year-old patient died while being pinned down in September 2016.
In 2011, Delaware officials made a similar move and stopped sending foster children to the for-profit company.
The firm operates group homes for disabled adults with medical issues in New Jersey, Florida, Virginia and Delaware.
Osborne’s suit alleges that staff “negligently, recklessly, and intentionally” gave her “hazardous food that had not been chopped.”
Staffers also lied about the food size and claimed they watched as she was eating, the suit says.
“The injuries sustained by (Osborne) were preventable with adequate care and supervision,” the suit says.
Personnel at the facility were not adequately trained to care for someone like Susan, according to the lawsuit.
The incident that proved fatal was not the first time that Susan choked on food. What Robert Osborne did not know at the time is that it wasn’t even her second near-fatal choking incident.
Susan had to be rushed to a hospital after choking on food in September 2014 and in 2015, records from the facility show. In the second incident, staff performed the Heimlich maneuver on her after a piece of a bagel got lodged in her throat, according to an internal report.
But Susan’s relatives were never told about the near-death experience, her brother said.
Family lawyer Daniel Woodard charged that the people running the group home saw her as a “cash cow” who would be financed by years through “government money.”
“It’s strictly dollars and cents,” he said. “The last thing they want is the family to take a family member out of their care so they don’t notify them when there’s an adverse event.”
A spokesman for Bellwether Behavioral Health did not return calls seeking comment.
Susan spent most of her life living with her parents in Hackettstown, N.J. She loved to look out the window during car rides, play cards and open gifts or anything else with wrapping paper.
When their parents became too frail, Susan’s siblings were forced to find a home that could provide round-the-clock care. She moved into the West Milford, N.J., group home for the developmentally disabled nine years ago.
“We just couldn’t take care of her,” Robert Osborne said. “We thought we found a good place.”
On that night last May, he rushed to get to Chilton Memorial Hospital right after he heard she was choking.
But it was too late.
“Her face was all red and blotchy,” Robert Osborne recalled. “The fear in her face was just horrible.”
Nearly two years later, Robert Osborne still feels trapped in a spiral of guilt over his sister’s death.
“I kind of feel like I let my parents down,” he said. “I feel like I’m responsible.”
(Courtesy of: The New York Post)