Mentally challenged man chokes to death at adult day care - FOX 26 News | MyFoxHouston

Mentally challenged man chokes to death at adult day care

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Even though he was 38-years-old Larry Herrera had the mind of a 5-year-old child.

"He would always make everybody smile," said Larry's mother Gloria Herrera. "He would shake your hand and tell you good morning and he called everybody his mama."

Herrera says she hasn't been the same since last April.

That's when Larry died while under the care of Diversity Day Activity and Health Services.

Herrera had been sending her mentally challenged son there for 11 months upon the recommendation of Harris County's Mental Health Mental Retardation Agency.

"I can't sleep at night cause I'm constantly thinking what happened to him and I feel bad because I put him in somebody's hands and they didn't take care of him right," Herrera said. "And I feel responsible for it."

Everybody that knew Larry will tell you the same thing.

You could never leave him alone to eat because he would stuff himself to the point of choking.

A lawsuit filed on behalf of the Herrera family states, " MHMRA was aware and had specific instructions that Larry Herrera was to be supervised and assisted during lunch and break time to ensure his safety."

What's more Larry's mother and two family friends said they were assured by Diversity they had nothing to worry about.

"No problem we've got plenty of staff to watch over him," family friend Benjamin Aldaco recalls hearing. "Well what happened?"

All family members say they know for sure is that Larry started choking at Diversity while eating lunch on April 5th.

According to the lawsuit one of Larry's physicians estimated the mentally handicapped man's "airway was blocked for approximately 15 to 20 minutes as a result of choking on food while eating lunch at the Diversity day program."

"There's a period of 10 to 15 minutes where he did not have any assistance to help him," attorney Adam Voyles said. "It's absolutely inexplicable."

"And the doctor told us that he still had food left in his mouth when they took him to the emergency room," Herrera said. "He had a lot of food."

The lawsuit alleges, "Larry choked because he was not properly supervised while eating lunch and the few inattentive personnel that were onsite were not properly trained in CPR."

"Surely it would have had to have been mandatory training," Voyles said. "It's like being a life guard even 16, 17 year old kids are trained in CPR and the hemlich maneuver to be a lifeguard. In a facility like this it's even more important."

MHMRA tells Fox 26 Investigates it removed consumers from Diversity's two locations from May 17th through May 31st and officially ended it's contract with Diversity on July 4th.

And yet Diversity is still listed on MHMRA's web site as one of it's vendors.

"Ms Herrera has yet to receive a phone call from either Diversity or the Harris County Agency to explain what they've done to investigate this situation," Voyles said.

While day cares for children must be licensed through the state and any problems found made public, that's not the case with adult day cares that provide services for people with intellectual and developmental issues.

The Texas Department of Aging and Disabilities contracts with MHMRA which in turn contracts with businesses like Diversity to provide daycare for the mentally challenged.

But the state agency held back payments to MHMRA on July 12th because of concerns raised during an annual review that took place shortly after Larry Herrera's death.

That hold on payments was lifted on August 16th.

We asked if the action taken against MHMRA was related to what happened to Larry Herrera at Diversity.

A spokeswoman for the state agency said, "All I can say is the deficiencies the team found were serious and resulted in conditions that had potentially dangerous consequences for individuals served."

"I hate to say it but I want that place shut down cause they don't deserve to be running that place and my son is 6 feet under the ground," Herrera said.

Herrera is now suing MHMRA and Diversity Day Activity and Health Services.

The suit alleges several acts of negligence including failure to adequately train staff, failure to supervise Larry Herrera and allowing Herrera to choke on his lunch.

Fox 26 investigates went to Diversity to get a comment about Larry's death.

An attorney contacted us but as of today no one has given us a response.

"I'm suffering still every day, every night." Herrera said. "I don't want to go no where I don't want to be around nobody cause I miss my son."




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