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Pro-institution mom sues over fire ant attack
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
June 25, 2001

This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

MOBILE, ALABAMA--The president of a pro-institution group is suing the state and former employees of the facility where her daughter suffered an attack by poisonous fire ants. The suit, filed on behalf of Betty Lyons, alleges neglect and claims that official documents were changed to cover up employees' actions. She is asking for more than $15 million in damages.

On Sunday, August 20, Lyon's 36-year-old daughter Sheri Renee Herring was rushed to the hospital after, as one doctor described it, being bitten by fire ants "so many times that the bites were too numerous to count". She was released from the hospital within the hour, and is still recovering from the bites.

At the time of the attack, Herring -- who has Rett syndrome and is not able to move her limbs, call for help, or even scream -- was a resident at Albert P. Brewer Developmental Center, an institution housing 187 people with developmental disabilities. Herring had been discovered in her bed covered from head to toe with the poisonous insects at about 5:30 a.m. Officials said she was alright when she was checked at 10:00 Saturday evening, but that the worker who looked in on her at 3:00 Sunday morning only opened her door to glance into the room.

Shortly after the incident, Lyons publicly defended the institution. As president of the Friends of Brewer, a group made up of residents' parents, Lyons said she was not angry and that she believed officials were correcting any of the problems which may have caused the ant attack or allowed it to be overlooked.

But a few weeks following the attack, the Department of Public Health released a scathing report which found that over a period of several months supervisors at Brewer Center repeatedly failed to take action after workers reported numerous incidents of ants in the beds and on the bodies of residents.

"I hold them responsible," Lyons told the Mobile Register in response to the report in October. "They knew about this, and they should have done something."

Lyon's attorney filed the suit last Friday, naming as defendants the Alabama Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation and some former Brewer Center employees. The suit claims administrators knew the facility was infested and did not properly get rid of the poisonous insects, that residents were not checked on as often as ordered, and that records were altered to protect staff members.

Brewer Center was closed this February and its residents moved to other facilities and homes in the community after 14 of its 15 buildings were found to have had structural problems that endangered the health and safety of the residents. The facility remains closed -- although officially on a temporary basis -- while its fate is decided.

Articles about Brewer Center and specifically this incident are available at this Inclusion Daily Express web page: http://www.InclusionDaily.com/news/institutions/alabama.htm

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