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State closes a group home

Published Thursday, March 11, 2010
By Lisa Buie, Times Staff Writer

NEW PORT RICHEY — Citing a pattern of deficiencies from filthy bathrooms to missing paperwork to the administrator calling one resident a "cripple," the state has shut down an assisted living facility and fined the owner $5,000.

Westbury House, 7114 Congress St., was closed Feb. 5 because of "a pattern of deficient practice under law," according to the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration.

The violations, which totaled more than 45 since August 2007, did not directly threaten the health, safety and welfare of residents, but the volume allows the state to revoke the license.
Residents of the 27-bed group home have been moved to other facilities.

Westbury's owner, Julius Reyes, did not return phone calls on Thursday. He also did not respond to the state's administrative complaint, waiving his right to challenge the charges and the penalty.

The violations are outlined in the 35-page complaint filed on Dec. 3.

It notes the failure of staff to make sure each resident had a required health assessment within 30 days of admission. The facility also failed to require all staffers to get proof they were free of contagious diseases.

An investigator's interview with several residents alleged the following:

• The administrator called one resident "a cripple" and announced to all residents in the television room on Sept. 7 that "everyone was paid up except you" and pointed to one resident. According to the residents, the administrator also threatened to throw a resident "out on the street" if the resident talked to state regulators.

• The administrator often ignored residents when they knocked on the office door.

• Staff members swore at residents and sometimes got angry with them if they overloaded a washer or clogged the toilets.

In one case, a resident alleged that a staffer offered the resident a "special treat" of chocolate pudding that the resident later learned was mixed with a laxative. The resident, who was having problems with the staffer, refused to eat the pudding. That staffer later confided in another employee that the pudding had been tainted "because the staff member was angry with the resident for calling her names," according to the investigator's report.

During a visit, the inspector also saw bathrooms with no soap or paper towels, broken toilet paper dispensers and exposed light bulbs. In the male communal bathroom, "Shower grout was dark brown and appeared dirty."

In another bathroom, the inspector noted feces on the floor and smeared on a toilet seat.

A resident using a walker took 20 minutes to shuffle down one hallway. He said he needed a wheelchair but that the administrator did not allow wheelchairs. Another resident needed a bathroom with a low shower step. However, the attached bathroom, which adjoined a live-in staffer's room, was locked on the resident's side, the report said, forcing the resident to use a bathroom with a high-step shower.

Other problems are noted in a report from the state's Long Term Care Ombudsman program. The agency uses volunteers to visit elder care facilities and act as advocates for residents.

The volunteers outlined "numerous issues which, though the owner and staff were alerted several times, were never corrected."

They included untrained staff, ongoing staff shortages, lack of adequate food for residents, inappropriate food storage, lack of activities available to residents, broken/unusable furniture, unwashed linens and the disrepair of facility buildings.

Interviews with 15 residents on Sept. 15 produced these quotes:

"I am depressed."

"I am bored to death."

"Our bathrooms are scary because they are so dirty."

"If you complain, they throw you out."

One volunteer said baked goods donated by a local cafe were stored in garbage bags on the floor and served to residents.

Shelisha Durden, a spokeswoman for the state regulatory agency, said Reyes had reapplied for a license to reopen the home, which provides help with personal care but not medical care.

In seeking a new license, applicants must complete an application with supporting documentation and pay a fee. The facility is then contacted by the agency's local field office to schedule a survey to ensure that the facility complies with Florida statutes and Florida administrative code. Once compliance has been determined, a license may be issued. Each application is handled on a case-by-case basis.

Durden said Reyes' application was under review.

Lisa Buie can be reached at or (813) 909-4604.

By the numbers

Westbury House

27 Number of beds in the group home
$5,000 Amount the owner was fined by the state
45+ Number of violations since August 2007