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Pinellas Park woman seriously injured in bizarre incident caught in health-care limbo

Jeri O’Quinn surprised doctors by surviving traumatic injuries, but now needs extensive brain rehabilitation treatment.

LARA CERRI | Times

Jeri O’Quinn surprised doctors by surviving traumatic injuries, but now needs extensive brain rehabilitation treatment.

ST. PETERSBURG — By the time her family got to Bayfront Medical Center, a priest had already anointed Jeri O'Quinn.

The 67-year-old Pinellas Park woman had suffered so much trauma the only part of her body the priest could touch was a toe.

On the night of Sept. 14, doctors were convinced O'Quinn — who had just been involved in a bizarre incident in which she was thrown from the hood of a speeding car, then run over by another — wouldn't live to see the next day.

"It was pretty hard to look at and it was pretty hard to take," said daughter D. J. O'Quinn, 44. "It still is."

Jeri O'Quinn, a longtime volunteer for the Pinellas Park Police Department, has spent the past several weeks inching along in a recovery that's likely to last many more months.

Her family, however, fears that O'Quinn, who suffered severe head trauma, may not get a fair chance at making a full recovery. They say she's been caught up in the health care industry's bureaucratic web.

"It doesn't make sense," D. J. O'Quinn said. "It's infuriating."

The first hurdle popped up a couple of weeks ago.

That was when doctors at St. Petersburg's Kindred Hospital, where O'Quinn was transferred in early October, recommended she attend an acute brain therapy program like the ones at Bayfront Medical Center and HealthSouth Rehab Hospital.

But O'Quinn's insurer, Citrus Health Care, initially refused to pay for her to receive such treatment. Instead, they told her daughter she was qualified for a long-term nursing home.

D. J. O'Quinn was incensed with Citrus, "a Medicare Advantage Health Plan that offers the benefits of original Medicare plus more," according to its website. The company did not return calls for comment.

D. J. O'Quinn did some investigating, and found that if her mother disenrolled from Citrus, regular Medicare would cover the cost of the rehab. She'd be able to start as early as Nov. 1.

Then another problem cropped up: The earliest Citrus would drop O'Quinn was Nov. 15, her daughter said she was told.

That changed on Thursday, when Citrus changed course and gave the okay for O'Quinn to go to Bayfront's program — though only for seven days.

But by Friday morning, D. J. O'Quinn was in tears again.

She said Bayfront, which had been willing to admit her mother before, had suddenly backtracked, saying she couldn't start the rehab program because of an infection. D. J. O'Quinn said her mother's infection began during her first stay at Bayfront shortly after the accident.

Bayfront officials said they could not comment on O'Quinn's case, citing medical privacy laws.

"It's outrageous," D. J. O'Quinn said. "They're just making her sit in limbo. She's fighting for her life all over again."

Police found O'Quinn bleeding about 9 p.m. Sept. 14 at 62nd Street N and 110th Avenue.

Witnesses said she had been clinging to the hood of a car and was thrown off when the driver slammed on the brakes. Another car then ran over her.

Minutes before the accident, police said, there has been a disturbance between O'Quinn and a former tenant named Admir Mrakovic.

Mrakovic and his girlfriend had been evicted Sept. 9 from a home O'Quinn owned. He told police he returned there to get his wallet when O'Quinn confronted him about burglarizing the place and jumped on his car as he was leaving.

Witnesses told police Mrakovic then sped through the neighborhood, hitting bushes and signs as O'Quinn, who is about 5 feet 4 and 140 pounds, clung to a windshield wiper before she was thrown from the hood.

Mrakovic, 25, has been charged with attempted second-degree murder. He is awaiting trial in the Pinellas County Jail, where his bail has been set at $100,000. He has pleaded not guilty.

"It's not something we talk about," D. J. O'Quinn said. "It scares her."

Before the accident, O'Quinn was heavily involved in the community.

Pinellas Park police said she was practically a part-time employee at the department, logging almost 2,000 hours of volunteer work. She and her late husband were volunteers until his death in 2007.

"This is a woman who's spent her life with her mind at full tilt," her daughter said. "She's done everything she can to be a good citizen. … To have her just sitting in a bed … is denying her a life she can regain."

On a recent afternoon, a nurse wheeled Jeri O'Quinn into the day room at Kindred Hospital. As her daughter whispered in her ear, O'Quinn uttered a few words.

"I need … brain rehab," she said. "I need it."

Her daughter gave her a hug, and told her everything would be fine. The mother began to cry.

"It's not okay," O'Quinn said. "It's not okay."

Pinellas Park woman seriously injured in bizarre incident caught in health-care limbo 11/05/10 [Last modified: Saturday, November 6, 2010 6:12pm]
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