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Police investigate death of Pinellas Park nursing home resident with sunburns

Wilbert Henry Moten, 65, may have been left in the sun at GraceWood Rehabilitation and Nursing Care on Saturday.
Wilbert Henry Moten, 65, may have been left in the sun at GraceWood Rehabilitation and Nursing Care on Saturday.
Published May 2, 2016

PINELLAS PARK — A nursing home on the state's "watch list" of problem facilities is again the subject of investigation after the death of a 65-year-old resident this weekend.

Pinellas Park investigators and the Florida Department of Children and Families are working with staff members at GraceWood Rehabilitation and Nursing Care to determine whether abuse was involved.

Wilbert Henry Moten spent hours in the sun at GraceWood on Saturday, Pinellas Park police said.

He was taken to the hospital about 6:15 p.m. with second-degree burns and blisters on his abdomen, police said, as well as symptoms of dehydration. He died of heart failure.

Sgt. Michael Lynch said investigators are constructing a time line to understand what happened on Saturday, a 90-degree day. From at least 3 p.m. on, when Moten was being looked after by a certified nursing assistant, he spent much of the afternoon outside in his wheelchair.

"But the question was how long had he been out there, and, obviously, did he have any sort of medical issue while he was out there," Lynch said. "We need to find out, prior to that 3 o'clock time, had he been outside?"

Records show GraceWood has been fined at least three times over the care of its residents since late 2012. In 2014, the facility settled with the state's Agency for Health Care Administration for $2,500 regarding allegations of unsafe use of mechanical wheelchair lifts.

In June 2014, according to an agency complaint, a 93-year-old resident fell from a mechanical lift while being moved into a wheelchair. The resident slammed his or her face on the shower chair, causing a brain bleed. A few days later, the resident died.

The state found that a sling being used in the transfer was not appropriate for the mechanical lift.

Another incident cited in the 2014 settlement involved an 80-year-old resident who fell from a wheelchair lift during a transfer, requiring two staples to the back of the head.

The facility did not contest allegations in 2012 of failing to assess a resident's untreated leg fractures, failing to tell his doctor about his symptoms and failing to report his claim of abuse.

And this year, the facility did not fight allegations that it failed to appropriately address its residents' dental needs. Two residents cited in the complaint had broken and decaying teeth, yet facility records showed no scheduled dental care.

A receptionist at GraceWood hung up when a Times reporter called Sunday. At the facility, administrator Christopher Kmet declined to comment.

Florida's Agency For Health Care Administration ranks GraceWood in the bottom 20 percent of facilities in its region in categories of administration, quality of care and quality of life, and in overall rankings.

Medicare.gov gives GraceWood poor ratings overall and in health inspection, but favorable ratings for staff and quality measures.

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The nonprofit facility at 8600 U.S. 19 N, which has 120 beds, cares for "the underserved in rural and urban poor communities," according to its website. Federal records show it is owned by Senior Care Group, Inc., based in Tampa, with locations in Florida, Oklahoma and North Carolina.

Senior Care Group ran into legal trouble in 2011, when the company agreed to pay more than $950,000 to settle federal allegations that it defrauded Medicare. The allegations involved North Carolina facilities.

Lynch said Moten had several medical conditions that could have contributed to his death. Moten had a guardian appointed to him, but no family members, police said.

The investigation into Moten's death, including an autopsy, is expected to take several weeks, Lynch said.

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Contact Claire McNeill at cmcneill@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8321.

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