Mom sues over death of girl, 14, in nursing home case

A mother whose teenage daughter died two years ago after a traumatic five-hour trip from a Tampa hospital to a Miami Gardens geriatric nursing home is suing the state and several agencies and individuals she holds accountable for her daughter’s death.

The 34-page federal complaint was filed this week in Tampa’s district court by attorney Matthew Dietz on behalf of Doris Freyre.

Freyre’s 14-year-old daughter Marie, who suffered from seizures and severe cerebral palsy, was taken by state child protection investigators in March 2011 from her mother after the state said Doris Freyre could not care for her because of her own disabilities.

A Tampa judge ordered the state to return Marie to her mother and provide around-the-clock nursing help. But, after the Agency for Health Care Administration refused to pay for that in-home care, child welfare workers told a different judge that a nursing home was the only option for Marie. She died two days after arrival.

The case highlighted an ongoing dispute between Florida healthcare regulators and the U.S. Department of Justice over the state’s practice of effectively forcing parents of severely disabled children to place their offspring in adult nursing homes by denying them in-home services — even though in-home care can cost less. The feds are suing Florida for “warehousing” frail children in nursing homes.

Dietz said Marie Freyre would still be alive if it weren’t for the state taking her away from her mother.

“Such removal and institutionalization directly led to the death of the child with a disability,” he wrote in the lawsuit. “Rather than getting the additional services she needed they decided to take her away, despite a court order,” he said.

In the days before her death, Marie was at Tampa General Hospital receiving treatment, but the hospital wanted to transfer her elsewhere. State workers said a Miami Gardens nursing home was the only facility that could accept her. On April 25, 2011, Marie was strapped to a stretcher, put in an ambulance and sent on the five-hour road trip to Miami Gardens. Despite pleas from her mother, Doris Freyre was not allowed to make the trip with her daughter.

State records showed that Marie wasn’t given food, water or her seizure medication on the trip. She became desperately ill and died two days later.

The complaint names the Department of Children & Families, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office (whose child protective services officers were involved in removing Marie from her home), the private agency that provided community-based foster care in Hillsborough and several attorneys and agency employees who worked on Marie’s case. It asserted that the child should never have been removed from her home.

“Her mother cared for her for 14 years and nothing happened,” Dietz said.

DCF had not received the lawsuit and could not comment, said spokeswoman Alexis Lambert.

Larry McKinnon, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office, said of the suit: “We believe it doesn’t have any merit and we are looking forward to defending our position in court.”

Dietz said the case, which seeks an unspecified amount of damages, is more about protecting other children.

“We are hoping that the policies of the state change,” he said. “No one should ever have to go through what Doris Freyre had to go through.”

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