NEW PORT RICHEY — Bed bugs, some as big as apple seeds, have prompted the state to cite an assisted living facility that continues to operate despite a 2-year-long effort to shut it down.
"Insects were observed to scurry upon exposure," according to an April 30 inspection report of Hillandale ALF at 6333 Langston Road. Investigators reported seeing the bugs when sheets were pulled back on beds in two rooms of the 24-bed facility.
The infestation is just the latest in a string of problems at Hillandale, which began with an allegation in 2011 that a resident was raped. The state has revoked its license to operate, but a judge granted a stay while court cases are pending.
A state inspector's interview with a county health department official confirmed a problem at Hillandale, which houses young, mentally disabled adults.
"She stated there was a current infestation of bed bugs," the report said. "She also stated that the bugs she observed were well fed."
Residents showed investigators bite marks on their arms and backs, with one resident complaining of being bitten for a month.
The Agency for Health Care Administration sent Hillandale a letter May 8 ordering it to move residents out of infested rooms, treat the entire facility and have the county health department confirm it was free of bed bugs. The ALF also was ordered to submit a plan showing how it would monitor the situation daily and prevent future infestations.
"Should Hillandale fail to comply with the directed plan of correction, submit an acceptable plan of correction and/or achieve substantial compliance, the Agency for Healthcare Administration may take administrative action including termination of its assisted living license," the agency wrote.
The bed bugs, along with staffers failing to maintain adequate incident reports, allowing a violent resident to attack others, not keeping proper track of medicines and failing to serve meals that matched posted menus, were all cited as deficiencies during the April 30 visit, which came two weeks after the state revoked the ALF's license and ordered it shut down. It also imposed $21,000 in fines.
The home, owned by Gene and Amelia Cowles and managed by John Ross, had appealed the state's move to close it two years ago, and earlier this year, administrative law judge Lynne A. Quimby-Pennock recommended only the fine. But Elizabeth Dudek, the health care administration agency's secretary, said the fine was not severe enough.
But the 1st District Court of Appeal recently granted a stay allowing Hillandale to stay open while its appeal in that court is pending.
Ross did not return calls for comment on the most recent inspection report. He has said in the past that the home will vigorously defend itself against state allegations.
Roxsana Jeffries said she recently took her son out of Hillandale after about 10 months when he was attacked several times by another resident.
"If we abuse our children or our elderly, why are they removed immediately from us, but not these special needs adults?" she said. "Why are their doors still open?"
Hillandale has been under fire since 2011, when the state first moved to shut it down following the alleged rape of a resident by a caregiver.
In that case, state regulators said Hillandale's owners should have taken preventive action when an improper relationship appeared to develop. Regulators said the woman was under the guardianship of her mother and unable to consent to sex.
Hillandale's staff said they were not aware of any improper relationship. As soon as they learned about it, they reported it to the Pasco County Sheriff's Office.
Hillandale was featured prominently in a 2011 Miami Herald investigation of assisted living facilities across Florida. It accused Hillandale of using violent takedowns and restraints and locking unruly residents in a closet, sometimes for hours. Ross has said restraints were used with state permission and a time-out room was used only once, for four minutes. He said the room was converted to a supply closet several years ago.