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State agency shuts down ALF overrun by bedbugs

By Waveney Ann Moore, Times Staff Writer
In Print: Sunday, May 22, 2011

ST. PETERSBURG — An assisted living facility overrun with bedbugs was closed Wednesday by emergency order.

Hilcrest Retirement Residence, at 220 Fifth Ave. N, had 27 residents at the time, all of whom have been moved to other facilities.

The order to close Hilcrest was given by the state Agency for Health Care Administration, which regulates the state's 36,000 health care facilities. It declared that the bedbug infestation "had become so prolific" that one attached itself to a member of its staff shortly after she arrived at the ALF on Monday.

The emergency order also noted that bedbugs were discovered on residents, clothes and bedding.

The closure came on the heels of an admissions moratorium issued May 13 by AHCA. The agency said then that Hilcrest had failed to correct the infestation even after being ordered to do so after visits by AHCA and the Pinellas County Health Department two weeks earlier.

In April, AHCA had found "bite marks on residents'' and blood spatters on linens and walls.

In last week's emergency order, AHCA concluded that Hilcrest had become "a direct threat to the health, safety or welfare of residents," as well as an "immediate serious danger to public health."

Records show that Hilcrest, which is licensed as a limited mental health facility, is owned by Ilfrenise Charlemagne, a registered nurse. According to AHCA, she is also the facility's administrator. Charlemagne, 62, has a Miami address, but her daughter, Soledad Cine, another officer of the corporation that owns Hilcrest, said her mother traveled to St. Petersburg to run the facility. Charlemagne did not return calls for this article.

The facility has had problems in the past, including being cited for unsanitary conditions, not maintaining proper medication records, dirty linens and nonworking smoke detectors.

The Department of Elder Affairs' Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program, which works to ensure residents' rights, has reported problems such as building disrepair, a dirty kitchen and unsupervised oxycodone and other medicine.

Natalie Clanzy, district manager for the Ombudsman Program, said the agency was notified of Hilcrest's closing, but its suddenness made it difficult to assist residents.

"We did our best to reassure some residents that were anxious about the move," Clanzy said, adding that it appeared that Charlemagne did not give residents a choice of deciding where they wanted to go.

"We're following up with the residents at their new facilities to make sure that they are comfortable and that their needs are met there," she said.

AHCA said Hilcrest's former residents have been moved to Cozy Care Manor, Loving Care of St. Petersburg, the Wirick, Villa Cabana, Alexis Place, Picket Fence Manor and Casa Buena, all in St. Petersburg.

If all was done correctly, the bedbugs should not have made the move. Pinellas County Health Department spokesperson Maggie Hall said the migration of bedbugs is always a concern, since they can travel in clothing and luggage.

"What we recommended was that a professional exterminator come into the facility. … When some of the people were beginning to be moved out, they really weren't able to take their belongings with them," Hall said.

The building was subsequently exterminated with the residents' possessions, which also were treated by being exposed to sunlight, she said.

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this article. Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at or (727) 892-2283.

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