ST. PETERSBURG — The new owners of the Palazzo Di Oro, an assisted living facility that closed suddenly two years ago amid financial turmoil, may have problems of their own.
In recent years, the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration has found dozens of deficiencies at facilities operated by Senior Management Advisors of Clearwater and fined them thousands of dollars.
The state agency is monitoring Grand Villa of Largo for deficiencies, including storage and disposal of medications. The ALF at 750 Starkey Road also is where a 94-year-old resident, Ruth Andrews, died in 2011. The Pinellas County medical examiner attributed the cause of death to mechanical asphyxia after the woman, who lived in the ALF's memory care unit, became wedged in a bed rail. Her nephew, George Hersch, has filed a wrongful-death lawsuit.
In April, Senior Management Advisors and ValStone Partners, a private equity investment firm with offices in Birmingham, Mich., and Baltimore, announced that they had bought Palazzo Di Oro at 3600 34th St. S. They paid $2 million for the property and promised more than $3 million in renovations.
Shelisha Durden, a spokeswoman for the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, said last week that no one had yet applied for a license to operate an ALF at the former Palazzo Di Oro property.
Senior Management Advisors responded to a request for an interview with a written statement.
"We are saddened by the death of the resident at the Largo facility. However, out of respect for the resident and the resident's family, we have no other comment at this time," John Moschner, director of operations, said.
"And to clarify the issue of a license for the St. Petersburg site, the requirement is to file the application 60 days prior to opening. Due to the extensive repairs and renovation required, we are not yet close enough to opening to file the application for licensure at this time."
Brian Lee, executive director of Families for Better Care, an advocacy organization based in Tallahassee, is concerned about the problems documented by the state agency at several Senior Management Advisors sites.
"My concern is when you see a track record of not providing the best care possible, whether it's insufficient staff training, inadequate number of staff, chronic medication errors, these are problems I am deeply concerned about, for the safety of residents," he said.
Lee, former head of the Florida Department of Elder Affairs' Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program, bemoaned the Legislature's recent failure to pass laws that would have reformed the state's assisted living facilities.
"It's disheartening," he said.
Moschner said Senior Management Advisors had not been contacted by the advocacy group "and so cannot comment on the nature of concerns they may have shared" with the Tampa Bay Times.
Durden said the Agency for Health Care Administration's most recent monitoring of Grand Villa of Largo began in January. At that time, the facility was cited because its emergency plan had not been reviewed and approved by the Pinellas County emergency management office. A March inspection found that the concern had been addressed, but then the agency website listed 12 pages of problems in April.
The Largo facility was fined $10,500 in connection with Andrews' death on April 26, 2011.
"The way in which Miss Andrews died was horrific and no one who is being supervised in a facility should have to die in that manner," said Scott Distasio of the Distasio Law Firm in Tampa, which is representing the woman's estate through Hersch.
The Largo ALF was also fined $2,250 in 2010 for not having enough qualified staff to supervise and provide services to residents.
Senior Management Advisors also operates independent living, assisted living and Alzheimer's care communities in Georgia and other parts of Florida.
Last week, Grand Villa of Altamonte Springs was fined $750. According to the state complaint, the facility "failed to offer appropriate personal supervision for a resident with a history of exit-seeking and elopement."
Hidden Oaks of Fort Myers was fined $2,000 last year. In the fall, Plantation Oaks Senior Living Residence in High Springs was fined $2,500.
The new St. Petersburg ALF will offer assisted living and memory care services and will be called Grand Villa of St. Petersburg. The owners have said they will remodel the first floor of the building — once a hotel — to include an Internet cafe, library, billiards parlor, beauty salon, barbershop, private dining room, large lounges and activity rooms. The center will have about 150 units, with about 30 in a separate Alzheimer's and dementia care area.
"Renovations don't mean much if you don't hire enough staff to take care of residents," Lee said. "If they really wanted to do something to instill consumer confidence, something that's substantive, then they should structure their business model around a high volume of well-trained caregivers led by an executive team that is committed to safe resident care."
The St. Petersburg facility will hire about 50 people.
Times staff writer Kameel Stanley and researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this article. Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2283.