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AGENCY TO ALTER HOUSE FOR GIRL

She must leave a rehab hospital six months after a brutal beating.

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 their 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 teen.

"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 her daughter'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.

Dong-Phuong Nguyen can be reached at (813) 269-5312 or nguyen@sptimes.com.

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