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Agency to modify house for beating victim booted from rehab

TAMPA — Friends and strangers continue to rally around the girl who was beaten and raped while returning books to the library one night, hoping to renovate her home before she is discharged from a rehabilitation hospital next week.

Today, exactly six months after the attack, the girl has hit a plateau in her therapy, leading doctors to recommend she continue recovery either at home or in a skilled nursing facility. Instead of placing her in a nursing home, her family is trying to quickly modify its Brandon house so she can continue her recovery there.

Medicaid does not pay for modifications, but at least one organization wants to help. Self-Reliance Inc., a nonprofit agency that pays for modifications through grants, said even if the family does not qualify for a grant it will try to find a way to assist the girl.

"I imagine (the house) is going to take a lot of work," said Brenda Ruehl, associate director for Self-Reliance Inc. "But we are going to partner with a builder and a contractor to see what we can all do as a community to help this family."

It has been a tense week for the mother, who said Medicaid did not inform the family that it could not pay for the modifications until nine days before the girl's scheduled discharge.

"I had been asking that question and never received an answer until now," said Cheryl Zemina, a family friend who has been dealing with Medicaid on the family's behalf. "I don't think Medicaid was malicious, but it was a severe oversight."

The public has donated about $100,000 to the girl, the mother said, but the family has not spent any of it in hopes of saving it for her long-term care. Patients with brain injuries can take years to recover.

If the home renovation is not done in time, the family would have to extend her stay at the rehab hospital and foot the $1,200-a-day bill, Zemina said.

The family was told recently that the girl would have to leave the $30,000-a-month rehabilitation hospital where she is receiving intensive therapy five days a week because she is not making sufficient progress. According to Health Department officials, her cognitive function is considered in a twilight state, meaning she is not in a full coma and is aware of people coming in and out of her room.

The mother said because her daughter is still young, intense therapy is crucial to recovery. Once at home, Medicaid will pay for just two to three days of therapy a week, she said.

"So my daughter will have to just lay there four days a week?" she said. "She needs to do a little bit each day."

She also was informed that the state would pay for only a manual hauler lift, instead of an electric one, to move her from her hospital bed to her wheelchair.

"It may seem like a small detail, but it makes a world of difference to my daughter's recovery," she said.

Officials said they are doing everything they can to help the family.

"This is not Medicaid abandoning this girl and not providing her with appropriate care," said Fernando Senra, a spokesman for the Agency for Health Care Administration. "I know staff has put a lot of time and care in evaluating this case and really wants to provide her with the most appropriate care."

Dong-Phuong Nguyen can be reached at (813) 269-5312 or

Agency to modify house for beating victim booted from rehab 10/23/08 [Last modified: Sunday, October 26, 2008 12:53pm]
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