ST. PETERSBURG — Carden House, the assisted living facility for the mentally ill that faced losing its license because of repeated complaints and unsatisfactory state inspections, has won a reprieve.
In an agreement with the Agency for Health Care Administration, which regulates the state's 36,000 health care facilities, Carden House will pay $3,500 in fines and administrative costs. The 60-bed home at 2349 Central Ave. has also agreed to keep a recently hired consultant on its payroll for the next two years. Also under the agreement, Carden House could lose its license if serious deficiencies resurface within the next two years.
Carden House isn't the only St. Petersburg facility with a limited mental health license under scrutiny. In May, the AHCA filed an administrative complaint against Loving Care of St. Petersburg, at 1001 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N. The agency cited the 120-bed facility for medication violations and is seeking a $15,000 fine.
Also, the AHCA cited Touched By Faith, at 351 15th St. N, for deficiencies including dirty and foul-smelling mattresses, building safety and recordkeeping. Calls to the owners of the two facilities were not returned.
At Carden House, the owners — Seminole-based Shrinathji Inc. — are pleased with the recent settlement, said their lawyer, Cathleen O'Dowd.
"We thought it was important that it be resolved,'' O'Dowd said of the six-count complaint filed against Carden House this year. "None of the allegations merited revocation of the license.''
The AHCA had cited persistent problems, including unsafe and unhygienic conditions, rundown property and furnishings, and failure to provide prescribed therapeutic diets during the agency's effort to impose $4,500 in fines on the facility and revoke its license.
Threatened with having to close its doors, Carden House hired a lawyer and a consultant, both with experience in state regulations.
The deficiencies were quickly corrected, said Molly McKinstry, the AHCA's bureau chief for long-term-care services, adding that Carden House "demonstrated marked improvement based on their own action.''
O'Dowd said that as part of its effort, the St. Petersburg facility conducted a "systems-wide review" and looked "very critically at how they were conducting business.''
The AHCA has not been Carden House's sole critic. A Jan. 27 report from the Department of Elder Affairs' Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program included complaints from residents that the kitchen ran out of food before they ate, they had no hot water or heat, and that there were frequent power outages. Natalie Clanzy, district manager for the Ombudsman's program, said recent months have brought significant improvement.
Some of those who live and run businesses in the surrounding Historic Kenwood and Grand Central neighborhoods aren't so sure. They have complained that Carden House residents are poorly supervised, dig through Dumpsters, panhandle, buy drugs and are unruly.
Carden House residents have been arrested 15 times this year on charges that included battery of a police officer, disorderly intoxication and burglary, according to records from the Pinellas County sheriff. Bonnie Nix, 61, known for wandering in the middle of downtown streets and panhandling, accounts for four of those arrests. Her latest was Tuesday.
Neighbors concede that increased state scrutiny has brought some changes at the assisted living facility.
"I'm pleased that they've been forced to improve their operation, and we have seen some improvements on the block as far as that goes,'' said Jim Longstreth, president of the Grand Central District Association. "We still have some issues of the residents coming into businesses and panhandling. We just had one of the residents arrested for buying drugs on the street, so the issues have not just gone away. They have been tidied up.''
Bob Jeffrey, who shares an alley with Carden House, agrees, saying its owners have offered "Band-Aid solutions'' to a pernicious problem.
City Council member Jeff Danner represents the district. "It's difficult to say from the outside that there've been a lot of improvements,'' he said.
Improvements have included an exterior paint job and a new awning over the front door, O'Dowd said. The facility's restrooms, courtyard, plumbing and air conditioning have all been upgraded, she said. O'Dowd also said Rebecca Falzone, the consultant Carden House hired after the state filed its complaint, is training employees. Under the settlement with the state, Falzone, a former AHCA inspector whose job was to monitor places like Carden House, is required to submit quarterly progress reports about the facility to her former employer.
Meanwhile, the AHCA and the Elder Affairs Ombudsman's office are also keeping an eye on Loving Care of St. Petersburg and Touched By Faith.
Clanzy, of the Ombudsman's program, said frequent complaints at Loving Care "are in the areas of food, staff attitude and safety issues.''
At Touched By Faith, a report from her office said residents complained about disrespect from the staff, reprisals and physical abuse.
Closing unsatisfactory and dangerous facilities, especially those whose clientele are mentally ill, is not a simple matter, said April Hill, a board-certified elder law attorney with the Hill Law Group in St. Petersburg.
"It's difficult to place these residents,'' she said. "The state is more inclined to make a deal, because it's going to be a tough job to find them a new home.''
Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at (727) 892-2283 or firstname.lastname@example.org.