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Florida Judge fines Carlton Palms $10,000 in settlement after girl’s death

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A Florida administrative-law judge approved a settlement imposing a $10,000 fine against Carlton Palms, and allows the center to admit new residents for the first time since September.

Florida’s most severely disabled children and adults are protected under the state’s Agency for Persons With Disabilities. The agency has settled a legal case with the Carlton Palms Educational Center that was filed after the death of a 14-year-old autistic girl at the Lake County residential facility. Investigators of the incident termed her death as “medical neglect.” On July 6, 2013, Paige Elizabeth Lunsford, the 14-year-old from South Florida, died of dehydration only 10 days after arriving at the Carlton Palms facility center. Paige, nonverbal because of her disability, vomited for five days, often while bound by restraints. She was not taken to the hospital until she was dead.

The family is preparing a wrongful-death lawsuit, said lawyer Lisa Levine, who represents Paige’s family. The state agency filed its complaint in September.

Carlton Palms is Florida’s largest residential center for developmentally disabled people, and has been cited in about 150 abuse or neglect complaints during the past 15 years, including alleged sex offenses and beatings, and a scalding. The Carlton Palms’ campus is located south of Mount Dora and about 4 miles west of U.S. Highway 44. The facility is licensed to care for and teach children, teens and adults diagnosed with autism, cerebral palsy and other developmental disabilities. It is home to 193 people, including about 150 wards of the state. Many residents display aggressive, destructive or self-injuring behavior. The Agency for Persons With Disabilities had threatened to shut down the campus, unless Carlton Palms made swift changes to its protocols and video-monitoring system to protect its residents, some of whom can’t speak.

Since the state agency filed its complaint in September, Carlton Palms has replaced its medical director and nursing supervisor; adopted new medical protocols; added night and weekend administrators; modified its training curriculum; and upgraded, expanded and backed up its video-surveillance system. Tom Rankin, APD Deputy Directors aid the agency tested the facility’s newly implemented procedures in November, by sending in a team of nurses to conduct a face-to-face review of residents and medical records.

“We did not find any health or safety issues,” he said.

The agency had previously filed two administrative complaints against Carlton Palms, including one that had cited “multiple acts of physical violence” against residents. Both were later withdrawn without imposing penalties on its operators or affecting the center’s state licenses to care for disabled persons. The latest settlement requires Carlton Palms to pay a $10,000 fine, the maximum fine under state law.