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Nursing home cleared in death of woman stung by ants

A judge has cleared a nursing home of any wrongdoing in its care and treatment of an 87-year-old woman who died after being stung more than 1,600 times by fire ants in her bed.

Quality Health Care Center of North Port did not err in its treatment of Mary Gay, Administrative Law Judge Jeff Clark said in his ruling.

While Clark called Gay's stings "unfortunate and unexplained," he found that a state agency did not sufficiently make its case for sanctioning the nursing home last year.

The March 9 ruling came as a result of an appeal the nursing home filed with the Florida Department of Administrative Law, its path to fight the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration's sanctions.

"We feel they didn't treat her, they just tried to make her comfortable," said Michael Sasso, AHCA attorney who represented the state's case at a January appeal hearing. The state agency can appeal the ruling.

Sasso said it is up to the General Counsel's Office whether the state will appeal the ruling.

It is separate from a civil suit filed Feb. 5 by Gay's family seeking more than $30,000 in damages, charging the nursing home with negligence and causing her death.

Don Greiwe, representing Gay's family in the civil suit against Quality Health Care, hopes AHCA appeals the ruling. "I think the administrative judge is wrong," Greiwe said.

Karen Goldsmith, representing the nursing home, did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

State regulators faulted the nursing home for not providing proper care for the stings, and for failing to follow a doctor's orders to treat the stings.

After AHCA sanctioned the home and closed it to new patients for two weeks on June 5, the federal agency that regulates nursing homes, the Health Care Finance Administration, fined Quality Health Care $3,000 a day. The fine was levied from May 26 to June 15. The fine likely will be lifted now unless the state appeals the judge's ruling, Sasso said.

Gay died May 19, 33 hours after the ants chewed through a wall of the home, swarmed her bed and stung her.

AHCA allowed the home to reopen June 19 after deficiencies cited by inspectors were corrected.