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Originally published June 11 2014

Family billed $12m after state mental institution kills man

by J. D. Heyes

(NaturalNews) New York State officials have sent an $11.67 million bill to the sister of a 33-year-old mentally disabled man who died at a state facility in Queens two years ago.

The bill came a year after the man's sister filed a lawsuit against the institution, alleging that the staff there had killed him.

The claim against Rasheen Rose's estate cited his total Medicaid assistance from Aug. 6, 2002, through Aug. 6, 2012, the day he passed away, The Associated Press (AP) reported.

Jennifer O'Sullivan, a spokeswoman for the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD), which operates the institution, told the AP that officials were merely following federal Medicaid obligation guidelines seeking reimbursement.

"Not doing so would be a violation and could put federal Medicaid funding at risk," she said, according to the AP.

Typically, however, Medicaid -- which is a joint state and federal program for low-income Americans, does not seek or demand reimbursement, so the case is odd for that reason alone.


Apparently, however, it is a tactic that is increasingly being employed by a cash-hungry government, perhaps as an intimidation element. Ilann Maazel, an attorney who has filed several lawsuits against the state after others died while under its care, told the AP that other claim notices have recently been sent to families that are suing.

"This is something new we're seeing... and it's problematic," he said.

Harvey Weisenberg, a state assemblyman and an advocate for the disabled whose adult son receives taxpayer-funded residential care, is calling the tactic "retaliation." He further stated that it was "an outrage" to send such a bill to someone who just lost a loved one, presumably from abusive care. "They're going to punish these people because they brought it to view of justice," he told the AP.

More from the AP:

The New York medical examiner concluded Rose's death was a homicide and that he "became unresponsive" while being restrained at Fineson Developmental Center. The Queens district attorney's office said it wasn't notified about the death until that homicide ruling was made four months later. Investigators found no criminal conduct but have left the case open, spokesman Kevin Ryan said.

Rose's sister, Shaneice Luke, is seeking unspecified punitive and other damages in her lawsuit, which has been filed in federal court. In it, she alleges that at least three staff at the institution threw her brother to the ground, and that one of them sat on him while other staff just stood by. Luke is also alleging that there is a history of abuse at the institute, the Bernard Fineson Developmental Center, and that supervisors and the state of New York have failed to address that or to properly train staff.

'Guards' killed him?

"Rasheen Rose did not receive care remotely associated with the amount of money collected by OPWDD for Rasheen Rose over the 10-year period," attorney Aaron DePass said in a reply to the state agency on Luke's behalf. Because he was killed by his would-be caregivers, "it is clear that the quality of care he received does not warrant any payment for services whatsoever," DePass wrote.

In filed court papers, all seven of the staff named in Luke's suit have denied that they did anything improper. They added that they acted within their professional judgment. The state attorney general and private attorneys are defending them.

In 2012, AP reports, a congressional oversight committee reported that New York's residential care centers for the developmentally disabled, such as Fineson -- which have mostly been emptied now in an ongoing shift to community-based programs and group homes -- cost Medicaid about $1.9 million a year per patient.

"The Cuomo administration last year announced plans to close four developmental centers over four years, including Fineson in 2017," AP added.

The New York Daily News reported in January 2013 that Rose was restrained by "guards" and that the medical examiner ruled his death a homicide.


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