ST. PETERSBURG — It was 87 degrees outside when investigators visited a St. Petersburg assisted-living facility on May 4, according to the state Agency for Health Care Administration, but residents inside had no air conditioning and hadn’t for at least a week.
The agency revoked the operator’s license for Picket Fence Manor, a 14-bed home near Bartlett Park, on May 5. Investigators also had found two of the facility’s four bathrooms closed, missing carbon monoxide detectors and broken ceiling fans. The facility had 15 residents, one more than it was licensed to have.
Picket Fence Manor failed to provide its residents “a safe and decent living environment,” according to the agency’s emergency suspension order, which described the home as having “deplorable conditions.”
The state had warned the home on three visits earlier this year to implement an emergency plan in case of a power outage or air conditioner failure and to fix a myriad of health and safety problems, but the problems persisted, according to state reports.
During this month’s air conditioning outage, the administrator did not try to relocate residents to a safe location, provide fans or keep residents hydrated as the temperatures rose, according to the state.
The state revoked Daniel Parks’ license to operate an assisted-living facility, fined him $16,500 and ordered that all residents be moved out by May 7. Parks is the home’s administrator and owner, according to the state.
The state had cited the facility for deficiencies five times since Parks took it over in 2009, including for incomplete medication records and failing to meet staffing standards. Before this year, the facility’s most recent citation was in 2014.
The Tampa Bay Times called the facility repeatedly for comment, but no one answered. On May 11, no one answered the door, and the home appeared empty.
During a Jan. 21 inspection, the agency found mold in the bathrooms, soiled bed comforters, electrical hazards, out-of-date fire extinguishers, bed bugs, cigarette ashes piled on the floor, toilets filled with standing urine, and food and other substances smeared on a door. In addition, the facility was operating above capacity with 18 residents. Inspectors went to the home in response to a complaint, to monitor its power generator and to check on COVID-19 measures.
Parks told inspectors he would correct the problems, saying that he was hospitalized from Sept. 27 to Dec. 12 and “that he was aware that everything was a mess,” according to the agency.
On follow-up visits Feb. 23 and March 25, inspectors didn’t report many of the previous cleanliness deficiencies, but noted food hygiene problems. Additionally, the facility had not submitted an emergency plan in case of a power loss.
On May 4, the agency found that the air-conditioning and ceiling fans were not working, according to the order. Residents and staff members said the air conditioning had been out for one to two weeks.
Temperatures inside between 12:40 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. ranged from 80 to 88 degrees. Long-term care facilities must keep indoor temperatures at no higher than 81 degrees, according to the state.
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“A resident reported the heat so stifling that the residents slept unclothed on top of sheets at night,” according to the agency, and investigators found no proof that residents were “encouraged to hydrate during this ongoing period of excessive heat.”
In addition, two of Picket Fence’s four bathrooms were locked and inaccessible to residents. Another bathroom had no door, giving residents who used it no privacy, according to the agency.
One resident complained that because the bathrooms were inaccessible, they had to urinate off the fire escape, according to the agency.
The state should have shut down the home months ago, said Brian Lee, director of Families for Better Care, an advocacy nonprofit for those with loved ones in long-term care facilities.
“It just begs the question: What took so long?” he said. “These are pretty terrible conditions. It’s almost a small house of horrors that these residents are living in.”
Facilities need to be investigated more often to ensure conditions are acceptable, Lee said.
In 2017, a dozen residents overheated and died at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, following a power outage during Hurricane Irma that disabled its air conditioning. Then Gov. Rick Scott mandated that care facilities have backup generators, which was later codified in state law.
Picket Fence has a required generator on-site, according to the agency’s website, but investigators found that “it is unknown if any such systems are operational.”
The state agency would not provide the Times with details about the complaint that brought inspectors to the facility in January and refused to say what deadlines it gave Parks to make improvements.