CLEVELAND (AP) — Attorneys for the estate of a disabled toddler who died of malnutrition and dehydration and his six siblings are suing county agencies and health care providers in northern Ohio, claiming they ignored warning signs of neglect.
Isaac Brothers-Bartholomew was 18 months old when his 11-year-old brother found him dead in his crib on Nov. 6, 2012, at the family's home in Vermilion, which is west of Cleveland. A genetic disorder left Isaac and four of his siblings physically and mentally disabled.
The lawsuit claims that despite having a paid nurse — the children's grandmother — in the home five days a week, care of the disabled children often was left to the oldest sibling, the 11-year-old boy, who is not disabled.
The grandmother, Debra Nelson, 63, and the children's parents, James Brothers, 35, and Adrienne Bartholomew, 36, pleaded guilty last year to child endangering charges and are in prison. The surviving children are in foster care and are thriving, said Jack Landskroner, an attorney who filed the lawsuit Tuesday in Erie County. The four disabled children have doubled their weight since being placed in foster care, Landskroner said.
Defendants in the lawsuit include the parents and grandmother, two Erie County agencies, a health care company that employed the grandmother and Dr. Teresa Ramsey, a pediatrician who Landskroner claims failed her legal duty to report that the children were neglected. He said all of the surviving disabled children were severely underweight.
"There was almost no recognition that these kids were in dire straits," Landskroner said.
Ramsey on Friday defended her care of the children. She said she referred the children to specialists, but their parents did not take them to appointments.
"I did what I was supposed to do as far as being their pediatrician," Ramsey said.
The lawsuit also names the Erie County department of job and family services, the board of developmental disabilities and county employees. A county attorney declined to comment on Thursday.
Landskroner acknowledged that county workers were often prevented from seeing the children during home visits. But county workers nonetheless missed signs of neglect, he said.
When emergency crews arrived at the home after Isaac died, they found children covered in feces and vomit, gaunt and lethargic, the lawsuit said. During their investigation, authorities learned that the 11-year-old acted as the primary caregiver for his younger disabled siblings. Landskroner said the boy used bottles to feed the children, but because they had problems swallowing, they received inadequate nutrition.
The lawsuit said the 11-year-old reported that the grandmother would take naps, sit around and drive his father on errands while he cared for his siblings.
A spokeswoman for Columbia, Maryland-based Maxim Health Systems, the agency that employed the grandmother, issued a statement Friday saying: "We are deeply troubled by these allegations and will respond to the plaintiff's complaint through the appropriate channels. Due to privacy regulations and pending litigation, we are not able to provide further information at this time."