St. Pete Beach woman at center of guardianship case dies of COVID-19

For the past two years, court cases have debated whether Genyte Dirse was put into guardianship without reason.
Genyte Dirse, who has been the center of a controversial struggle over guardianship, died after staying in a nursing home with a coronavirus outbreak
Genyte Dirse, who has been the center of a controversial struggle over guardianship, died after staying in a nursing home with a coronavirus outbreak [ Courtesy of Gedi Pakalnis ]
Published May 15, 2020|Updated May 15, 2020

Genyte Dirse, like so many others suffering from COVID-19, died in the hospital without loved ones by her side.

Dirse, 86, died at St. Anthony’s Hospital on May 5 after being hospitalized the week before. She had previously been at Patrick Manor Assisted Living Facility, which has 11 resident coronavirus cases and two staff cases, according to state data.

But Dirse’s life — and who deserved to take care of her — has been fought over, in the court system and through activist circles, for years.

Her grandnephew, Gedi Pakalnis, said Dirse was placed into the state’s guardianship program for elders against the will of family. He said he wasn’t notified about her death, and he hadn’t been allowed to speak with her since February 2019.

“If she stayed home, everything would be better,” Pakalnis, 37, said. “She contracted this virus apparently in the assisted living facility, and being at home would be much better, with the family and where she liked to be, in her beach house.”

Before Dirse was taken into guardianship and moved to an assisted living facility, she lived in a motel she owned on St. Pete Beach. After she sold part of the property to Pakalnis for $50,000, despite the property being worth about half a million dollars, an area realtor asked a judge to put Dirse under guardianship, saying Pakalnis exploited her, according to WFTS-Ch. 28.

That realtor, Diana Sames, had expressed interest in buying the property, but tenants said Dirse didn’t want to sell, according to the report. Sames said she felt Pakalnis was exploiting his great aunt, who had a medical history of dementia, according to court records and medical examiner’s documents.

There are two ongoing lawsuits, one regarding the property and another about Dirse’s guardianship.

After Dirse was moved from her St. Pete Beach motel in 2018, Pakalnis said he didn’t know where she was for some time. He found out she was at Patrick Manor after seeing her in a photograph used on the facility’s website.

When Dirse was moved to the hospital, Pakalnis was notified by Dirse’s guardian, but he wasn’t contacted about her condition after April 30, he said.

Though the medical examiner’s report said Dirse’s guardian told Pakalnis about the death, he said he only found out after a call from her sisters in Brazil.

“There's a lot of things that didn’t make sense,” he said. “We really couldn't say goodbye, didn't know anything until after she died.”

After he learned his great aunt was in the hospital, Pakalnis filed emergency court motions to get an opportunity to speak with Dirse. They were not successful.

Dirse’s current guardian, Jean Farnan, on the day of her death, filed a document in the ongoing guardianship case stating Pakalnis is not a close relative and is a “toxic person.”

The document states Farnan contacted Dirse’s sisters, who live in Brazil, and Dirse’s grandnephew in California, who requested that Pakalnis not be included in the decision making. Pakalnis said it surprised him to see that in the document, because he hadn’t heard anything like that from family.

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Farnan declined to comment for this story.

Dirse’s original guardian was Traci Hudson — who was arrested in November 2019 and accused of swindling about $500,000 from another senior for whom she acted as power-of-attorney and healthcare surrogate.

Rick Black, the executive director of the Center for Estate Administration Reform, has been involved in Dirse’s case for years. He said the stress for Dirse, or any other elder, of being removed from their home can accelerate their decline and eventual death.

“The tragedy here is the way Genyte Dirse’s life ended,” Black said. “And nobody who has contributed to that has accepted any responsibility for that.”

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