Florida Keys

A doctor was charged after an elderly woman died. The case has just been dropped

Florida Keys prosecutors have dropped charges against a Miami Beach doctor police arrested in 2017 on counts of operating two unlicensed elderly care facilities in Monroe County where detectives say patients were neglected and one died malnourished and suffering from severe bedsores.

This follows a lengthy investigation that included accusations of neglect to all six patients living in the two facilities, especially regarding the patient who ended up dying. Regla Valdes, was an 85-year-old woman who police say was bleeding, covered in urine and feces, as well as the bedsores, when she was brought to Mariners Hospital in Tavernier on Nov. 30, 2016.

Valdes died the next day at Baptist Hospital in Kendall. Mariners Hospital staff called the Florida Department of Children and Families after seeing Valdes’ condition, and DCF investigators contacted the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, launching the investigation.

Dr. Raul Tamayo, 68, who detectives said in a May 2017 probable cause affidavit “operated and maintained” the facilities — one in Key Largo and the other in Plantation Key — was arrested on elderly neglect at his Miami Beach home a month later and held initially on a $200,000 bond.

But Monroe County State Attorney’s Office prosecutors said last week that they never found that Tamayo was anything but the doctor whom the owner, Amarilys Maristan, hired to check up on her clients. And prosecutors said they didn’t have evidence to prove he knew the facilities were unlicensed.

They also said they did not have enough evidence to show he failed to provide the care he told investigators he did and for which he billed Medicare.

Charges against Tamayo were dropped on Aug. 19.

“It was a very difficult decision to make. We put a lot of time and effort into this case,” said Monroe County State Attorney Dennis Ward.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General also investigated the facilities, as well as accusations by the sheriff’s office that Tamayo was billing Medicare for services he didn’t provide. But the federal investigators’ findings didn’t match those found by the sheriff’s office, Ward said.

“We didn’t have enough,” he said.

Regarding Valdes, prosecutors said the condition of her skin was bad, but it likely had been for a long time, and there was no indication it was that way because of Tamayo’s treatment or lack thereof.

“We couldn’t tie the doctor to abuse,” said Assistant Monroe County Gail Conolly.

The Monroe County medical examiner also concluded Valdes was not malnourished or underweight, Conolly said.

“She was where she should be for her height,” she said.

Tamayo said he was relieved the charges against him were dropped, but that he is angry at sheriff’s office investigators for concluding he mistreated his patients and had anything to do with the facilities’ operations.

“I’ve never done anything wrong against any of my patients,” he said.

According to Florida Department of Health records, Tamayo has had no public complaints filed against him since his medical license was issued in October 1987.

Tamayo said he did not know Maristan’s facilities were unlicensed, nor did he ask. He said he’s provided medical services for several assisted living facilities throughout his career and never felt it was his responsibility to ask if they were licensed.

“As a physician, you never ask, ‘do you have a license.’ They’ll just say, ‘I’ll call someone else,’ ” Tamayo said.

The state is still prosecuting Maristan, 49, who faces two counts of elderly neglect with great harm. Her next court appearance is scheduled for Nov. 11 at the Plantation Key courthouse. She could not be reached for comment.

Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay said he stands by his lead detective in the case, but understands the decision by the State Attorney’s Office.

“The investigator in this case encountered a situation he obviously believed was putting elderly residents at risk and took action to stop it. The burden of proof the State Attorney must meet is higher than required for an arrest,” Ramsay said in an email Tuesday. “I understand they feel they could not meet that burden. I respect their decision and appreciate their continued efforts in the co-defendant’s aggravated neglect of an elderly person case, which is still pending.”

David Goodhue covers the Florida Keys and South Florida for FLKeysNews.com and the Miami Herald. Before joining the Herald, he covered Congress, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy in Washington, D.C. He is a graduate of the University of Delaware.
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