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State should explain why facility still closed

The closing of a Palm Harbor assisted living facility by state Attorney General Charlie Crist seems more peculiar with each passing day.

The Long Shadow Inn certainly should have been closed temporarily and its residents moved to other quarters after employees bungled a fire drill during a surprise inspection by Crist's Operation Spot Check program. The facility was unable to produce a disaster plan for the inspection team, and when the fire drill and evacuation were ordered, several residents who used wheelchairs were left sitting in their rooms.

That kind of lax approach to emergency planning is unacceptable, and Palm Harbor Fire Rescue seemed to agree when it joined in closing the Long Shadow Inn last week. However, the fire department conducted special training classes with the facility's employees on Feb. 10, considers them properly trained now in fire safety procedures, and declared that the facility could reopen as of Friday night. But the state Agency for Health Care Administration won't reopen it, and in fact placed a moratorium on new admissions Friday at the same time fire officials were saying the facility was safe to reopen.

The question is why.

Why did a team of 15 people, including officers from at least four state and local agencies, descend on the Long Shadow Inn, a relatively new assisted living facility on Nebraska Avenue? Is this the worst facility of its kind in Pinellas County, the place in all the county where residents were most at risk?

To hear Crist speak at a news conference the day after the shutdown (does he do this in every case where a facility is closed?), the place was a nightmare. He called conditions there "incomprehensible." The attorney general's staff cited "poor conditions" at the home, employees preparing food with open wounds on their hands, lack of soap for residents and employees, and sewage problems.

Yet family members of Long Shadow Inn residents told the St. Petersburg Times that the facility was clean and the residents well-tended by a caring staff. Television coverage of residents being evacuated following the fire drill showed the residents looking clean, well dressed, and alert. The Pinellas County Health Department, which was present for the Operation Spot Check visit, said only one employee had a bandaged hand, but that person's hand was covered with a glove. The Health Department inspection also found one soap dispenser in an employee restroom that needed to be filled. "But there wasn't anything that could be considered a major violation," said a Health Department spokeswoman.

So why is the Agency for Health Care Administration keeping it closed? Neither the agency nor Crist's office will comment except to say that the investigation is continuing.

The owner of Long Shadow Inn, Zlata Campara, blames a "volunteer ombudsman" for the state Department of Elder Affairs, Kathleen Johnson. Campara said Johnson is carrying out a personal vendetta against her and that the Long Shadow Inn has been visited by state inspectors more than 20 times in the past four months purely because of that vendetta. Campara said Johnson has shown up at the facility several times a week, the first time with a former Long Shadow employee that Campara had fired.

Meanwhile, more than 30 residents have been scattered hither and yon in other facilities, with no indication of when they can return to the place they consider home.

Operation Spot Check is a valuable program, but its reputation is at risk in the Long Shadow case as rumors and inconsistencies cloud the situation. Crist's office started this. He should provide an explanation of why the Inn remains closed.

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