Thursday, February 18, 2010

Neglect death of Danieal Kelly could have been prevented, social services agency director says

From the Philadelphia Daily News:

A co-founder of the now-defunct agency that provided social services to Danieal Kelly (pictured), a 14-year-old girl with cerebral palsy, broke down on the witness stand Feb. 16 when asked by a federal prosecutor what she thought when she heard that Danieal had died on Aug. 4, 2006.

Manuelita Buenaflor, who had been a supervisor and quality-control director for MultiEthnic Behavioral Health, said that she was "sad" when she heard the news, adding that "it was just a matter of time before this could happen."

"Why did you think that?" asked Assistant U.S. Attorney Vineet Gauri.

Sobbing and wiping away tears, Buenaflor said that Danieal's "death could have been avoided" had agency workers not "ignored" requirements to visit families and maintain proper records.

Buenaflor is the highest-ranking former insider to testify for the government at the fraud and conspiracy trial of two MultiEthnic founders, Mickal Kamuvaka and Solomon Manamela, and two social workers, Julius Murray and Mariam Coulibaly.

Buenaflor pleaded guilty last June to wire fraud, health-care fraud and conspiracy to obstruct an investigation, and agreed to cooperate with the feds. Five co-defendants in the case have also copped guilty pleas.

MultiEthnic received a $3.7 million contract from the city Department of Human Services to provide services to 500 at-risk, poor families, including Danieal's, from 2000 to 2006.

The feds say that eight of the nine defendants charged in the case schemed to bill the city for services never rendered. The contract required workers to visit the families - in Danieal's case, at least twice a week - but visits were not made and records were falsified to make it appear that visits had been made.

Buenaflor's job was to make sure that MultiEthnic workers filed the proper reports, notes and case reviews on the families for whom they were providing services.

She said that she had "concerns" that some workers were not visiting families or were filing phony reports saying that they had made the visits - dubbed "ghost visits" - but she never alerted the city or the workers' supervisors about her concerns.

Buenaflor testified that when she tried to prepare a "tracking form" for defendant Murray on July 20, 2006, two weeks before Danieal died, she couldn't find any progress notes or quarterly reports in the family file to document that visits had been made. (Court papers said that Murray, who was assigned to the Kelly family in April 2006, told police that he visited the Kelly home on July 24, 2006.)

When Kamuvaka's attorney, William Cannon, suggested on cross-examination that just because reports were missing from the Kelly family's file didn't mean they didn't exist, Buenaflor said: "I don't have the proof of that when it's not in the file."

Earlier yesterday, jurors heard testimony from Steven Bach- rach, a pediatrician and expert in neurodevelopmental disabilities, from Wilmington.

When he was asked by Assistant U.S. Attorney Bea Witzleben what Danieal's life expectancy would have been had she been properly cared for, Bachrach replied: "She could have lived a full life," possibly to age 75 or 80.

Bachrach said that Danieal was "severely malnourished" at the time of her death.

When Cannon tried to get Bachrach to concede that cerebral palsy was the cause of death, Bachrach didn't budge.

"The autopsy report listed cerebral palsy as the cause of death?" Cannon inquired.

"I disagree with that," Bach- rach replied.

On redirect by Witzleben, Bachrach added that cerebral palsy may have made Danieal "more vulnerable" and contributed to her death, "but was certainly not the cause of it."