NORTH ANDOVER (CBS) – Leevon Toppi of North Andover requires 24-hour care. He can’t walk, see or speak. He is fed through a tube in his stomach and needs to have his throat suctioned because he can’t swallow.
As a single dad, David Toppi says he would be lost without the help of an in-home nurse. “My option would be to give him up, to put him in an institution,” he said.
But 12-year-old Leevon has been able to stay home thanks to registered nurse Julie Frascarelli. “She’ll be here for ten hours,” David said. “Sometimes Leevon can be choking and retching all day and she’s completely on top of him.”
“I have cared for Leevon now, full time, for six-and-a-half years and I guess you could say, I’m family”, Julie said. She may feel like family but caring for Leevon is still a job and requires a nursing license which she’s had for 30 years.
But last year, she was notified that her license had expired six weeks earlier. Renewing requires some simple paperwork which she overlooked. There are no tests or additional education required.
Julie says she immediately got on the phone. “I called the Board of Registration in Nursing and paid the $57 fine and renewed online. They (The Board of Registration in Nursing) said go back to work, there’s no problem,” Julie recalled.
However, there was a problem, a big problem. Julie is paid by MassHealth, a state agency that provides health care to needy families. When they discovered her license had lapsed, they demanded she repay every dime she earned during that period of time, more than $10,000. That’s in spite of the fact that she worked every day caring for Leevon.
David believes this is a situation where the punishment does not fit the crime. “This is insane,” he said. “I think it’s pretty unfair to diminish what she does for work, especially with a child like Leevon,” he added.
Julie filed several appeals, all of which were denied. One appeal was rejected because she failed to mail in a duplicate copy of the appeal to the proper agency.
No one from MassHealth would talk to us on camera. In a statement a spokesperson said: “This protects the health of our members and ensures that taxpayer resources do not go to providers who misrepresent themselves or commit fraud.”
David’s state representative, Diana DiZoglio, told us this is an unfortunate situation and does not appear to be a case of fraud.
“There is an appeals process and I hope whoever is involved in that is going to take a serious look at the human side of this,” she said.
Julie has one final appeal.
If she loses, she says she will stop working for the state which would be a blow to both David and Leevon.
“It takes a lot for me to have someone come into my home and for me to get used to them,” he said.