More allegations of abuse against brain injured patients

9:47 AM, Jan 8, 2013   |    comments
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WAUCHULA, Florida -- There are more disturbing pictures coming from the brain injury rehab facility in Hardee County where patients have been beaten, abused, and have died.

In Depth Report: FINR - Highway to Heaven or Road to Hell?

There are new allegations of brain injured patients being beaten at the Florida Institute for Neurologic Rehabilitation (FINR) and the organization may be trying to avoid paying off lawsuits since it has filed for bankruptcy.

The newest beating allegations involve a witness, the girlfriend of the victim. Stephanie Watson says she visited Scott Berg on Sunday. "They beat him," she says.

Watson took pictures on her cell phone, and the pictures are disturbing.

According to a Hardee County Sheriff's Office report, five employees walked into Berg's room and battered him, punched him, choked him, and dragged him to the ground. Berg was taken to the hospital.

Berg was allegedly watching TV with Watson when the beating happened. "The door busts open and this gentleman walks in," says Watson. "He says something, I don't remember what it was, but he said, 'We can do this the easy way,' and then he takes off his jacket and throws it and says, 'We're going to do this the hard way.'"

Watson, who was able to record a little video and some audio on her phone before being pushed out of the room, says five staffers eventually attacked Berg. She can be heard in the recording saying, "Please guys, don't hurt him. There's, like, five of you in there and only one of him."

"I hear them punching him," Watson says. "I hear  Scott gasping for air saying, 'I can't breathe, I can't breathe. Get off of me, get off of me.' And the first gentleman that started it says, 'Nope, sorry, I'm not moving,' and I hear him repetitively punching him over and over again."

10 News first investigated FINR in October, and discovered undercover video of a patient being beaten by three staff members. The institution has been accused of human rights violations. Five patients have died, and DCF has received more than 500 complaints.

This latest beating comes on the heels of one patient needing stitches after an altercation with a staff member last month, and another patient being bruised last week.

Watson says, "It's unreal. It's like you hear of people in the 1800's, in institutions, being beaten for the pure joy of it."

Watson says she believe Berg's beating was also for the pure joy.

FINR receives $87,000 a month to care for Berg, but he says the facility doesn't help him. He told 10 News he is trying be moved to another facility, but his court appointed guardian won't let him.

Meanwhile, many including Stephanie Watson believe FINR's recent bankruptcy filing is just a ploy by owner Joseph Brennick to avoid paying damages for the lawsuits filed by patients, patients' families, and insurance companies for the abuses they say occur at the facility.

Watson says, "Lots of people file for bankruptcy and they change the name and they put a new owner, but it's the original owner under a new name. It happens all the time. This place needs to be shut down."

Critics say the state has to also share some of the blame, because it knows about the abuse, but continues to let FINR operate.

A FINR spokesperson says because of HIPPA, the organization can't comment. But Scott Berg's guardian says he eloped from FINR Saturday night, and when he returned he became aggressive when he was confronted by staff.

Berg's girlfriend and his mother both dispute that version of what happened.

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