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Cover 04/10/2013

Big Pharma's Troubling History of Pushing Drugs on Foster Kids

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Nurse Loretta Ramos sued Laurel Ridge in 2008, claiming she was fired because she reported numerous violations, including unsafe staffing levels, and “was a witness to the cover-up of facts surrounding [a] patient’s suicide,” concerning the death of a woman placed on suicide watch at the facility. In another instance, in 2010, a male patient on suicide watch stormed out of a group therapy session and was found dead three hours later, having hung himself with a bed sheet. His Laurel Ridge doctor, Allan Lloyd, had his license revoked by the Texas Medical Review Board a year later over unrelated charges.

Months before Jo Angel Rodriguez entered Laurel Ridge, 24-year-old Lauren Green was admitted for mood disorder, bipolar disorder, depression, and suicidal ideation. According to father Tim Green, Lauren became addicted to Demerol at age 19 when doctors prescribed the pain medication to alleviate her cellulitis. In 2009, the family, from the Dallas-Fort Worth area, scoured the country for a treatment center and settled on Laurel Ridge.

Records show that the day Dr. Malathi Koli discharged Lauren from Laurel Ridge; she gave Lauren 13 different prescription medications, including painkillers and antipsychotics. Koli gave Lauren prescriptions for 10 more medications when she left, according to court records. The day after leaving Laurel Ridge, Lauren headed to Austin to stay with an ex-boyfriend, filled the prescriptions and took them that evening. On the phone that night, “she was completely out of it, just a zombie,” Tim said. The ex-boyfriend found her dead the next morning.

The Travis County Medical Examiner wrote that Lauren died from “acute multiple drug toxicity,” explicitly stating that there was no evidence of an overdose. Lauren had taken the medicine as prescribed by Laurel Ridge.

When the family sued, Laurel Ridge settled with the Greens for an undisclosed amount. The malpractice case against Koli went to trial in a Bexar County court last December. The Greens lost, and the court awarded Koli more than $5,000 in court costs, which the Greens now have to pay.

Jason Cruz, Jo Angel Rodriguez’s court appointed attorney and guardian, recalled rushing to the hospital to visit Rodriguez as soon as he heard she’d been taken to the emergency room. “When I saw her, she was basically comatose.”

DFPS conducted its own death review, writing, “It is of concern that it appears that Jo Angel’s physical illness was not being followed closely, nor was any possible reaction to the emergency medication being monitored.” DFPS also criticized the hospital for taking so long to call an ambulance.

Cruz, for his part, is still troubled Rodriguez was committed to Laurel Ridge in the first place

“Bottom line, it was one of those situations where they (the foster parents) were looking for an excuse to get rid of her,” he claimed. “They had tried to get her admitted before. … I spent more time with those kids than arguably any other case I’ve ever had, and that kind of behavior was just not an issue with her.”

The years-long court battle ended with a whimper last week when attorneys met with Judge Spencer to approve a confidential settlement with Pfizer.

“I guess that was the whole point in filing the lawsuit,” Cruz said, “to try to honor Jo Angel and get her siblings some money.”

For Cruz, the outcome is bittersweet. “As attorneys, we feel great that we succeeded,” he said. “But from knowing that little girl, knowing how bright she was, it just feels kind of empty.”

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