In the past two years, Carden House, a St. Petersburg assisted living facility for the mentally ill, has been inspected by the state more times due to complaints than any other in a seven-county area that ranges from Pasco to Polk to Highlands.
Because of the continuing problems, the 60-bed facility faces a yet-to-be determined fine for uncorrected deficiencies after a Jan. 27 visit from the Agency for Health Care Administration, which licenses the state's 36,000 health care facilities. Polly Weaver, chief of the bureau of field operations for AHCA, said ALFs are given 30 days to correct deficiencies. Failure could result in fines, a moratorium on new admissions, license suspension or revocation.
Over the past 12 months, Carden House, at 2349 Central Ave., also has faced increased scrutiny from a Department of Elder Affairs program that advocates for residents' rights.
Problems cited have run the gamut from improper administration of medicine to unsanitary conditions, inadequate staff, insufficient and poor quality food, rationed toilet paper and a scarcity of eating utensils.
The issues at Carden House, where 54 men and women live, have spilled into the surrounding community. Neighbors say residents rifle through garbage, aggressively beg for food and money, buy drugs and congregate and act up in front of the facility.
State reports a year apart paint a picture of continuing troubles at the facility owned by Shrinathji Inc., which bought it for $1.4 million in 2007.
A Jan. 27 report from the Department of Elder Affairs' Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program includes complaints from residents who reported, among other things, that the kitchen ran out of food before they ate; they had no hot water or heat; and there were frequent power outages.
A year earlier, Cynthia Floyd, one of more than 400 trained volunteers across the state who assess ALFs for the ombudsman program, reported encountering a "very dirty'' kitchen and food packages with "chew holes from rodents.''
"I did not interview residents confidentially due to concerns about my own personal safety,'' Floyd wrote.
On Feb. 22, the St. Petersburg Times accompanied Natalie Clanzy, district manager for the ombudsman program, and volunteer Bob Shiels to the facility. The elevator in the three-story historic building is out of order, so most residents climb three flights to their rooms. In the pantry, a glass-door refrigerator with juice, milk and bananas was secured with a chain and padlock.
Despite the year of scrutiny, improvements have been few, Clanzy said. Administrator Haresh "Harry'' Hirani disagrees and points to a new, nutritious menu; a brand-new hot water system; and 60 new bed frames, mattresses and sets of bedding.
Clanzy also said the facility needs more staffers and that many of those hired by Hirani have criminal records.
"How can he say he's providing a safe environment for the residents when the majority of the staff have a criminal history?" she said.
While records show that Carden has employed people with minor criminal histories, Hirani said, "We do not have any employees with criminal backgrounds.'' He added that AHCA has cleared everyone he has hired. As for not having enough staff, that is not true, he said. Carden House has a staff of 14, enough for the facility, he said.
Lunch on the day of the Times visit was ravioli salad. That was an improvement, Clanzy conceded, but noted that Hirani had invited the ombudsman's office to see the new menu.
Hirani also called a residents' meeting that day and asked for their help to improve the facility. He asked residents not to smoke or eat in bedrooms or hang out in front of the building. When they run out of toilet paper, he said, ask the staff for replenishments. Come downstairs for medication. He promised a garden. The facility, Hirani said, had replaced torn mattresses and sheets, so residents should remove their shoes before getting in bed.
"Big problem, small problem, come to me,'' he said. "Be open. If I'm not aware of something, I can't help you."
One person didn't have a shower handle. A man said his roommate still had a mattress with a hole. Another wanted vegetarian meals.
Two floors up, a woman let the visitors into her room. She spoke amid a jumble of garbage bags, stuffed animals and clothing strewn about the floor. She shares the cot and room with a boyfriend, the woman said.
Outside in the dimly lit hallway, Peter McEachin, 51, clutched a pile of clothes. He said he is paid $3 a day to do laundry for fellow residents.
Kevin Holda, 39, at Carden House for almost seven months, said conditions have gotten better.
"The hot water has improved. The food has changed,'' he said.
The second floor is unoccupied and locked, but its rooms have been colorfully painted and other upgrades done. The hope was to add residents, but that would require a zoning change, said City Council member Jeff Danner, who represents the area. Expanding is highly unlikely, he said.
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2283.