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    Nurse charged in abuse at nursing home

    A former caregiver at Oak Manor Nursing Home in Largo is accused of giving a black eye to a 96-year-old resident of the home.

    By CHRIS TISCH, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published May 15, 2002


    LARGO -- A caregiver at Oak Manor Nursing Home in Largo was charged May 8 with giving an elderly dementia patient a black eye.

    Lenore Bolles, 50, a former nurse at Oak Manor, was charged with battery on an elderly person. She is accused of causing 96-year-old Opal Witsaman to suffer a black eye, though there are varying stories as to how the injury occurred.

    Bolles is the third caregiver at Oak Manor to be charged in connection with patient abuse in the last eight weeks. In late March, two nursing assistants were arrested in connection with abuse of a patient.

    An Adult Services investigator summoned Largo police to the nursing home, 3500 Oak Manor Lane, in October to investigate Witsaman's black eye.

    Employees told police that Bolles was the only person with Witsaman when she received her injury.

    Bolles said "she had become frustrated with the victim and pushed her wheelchair in such a manner as to cause the victim to fall from her chair and strike her face on either the floor or table," Officer Sam DiMaggio wrote in an affidavit. "Lenore Bolles said she felt very bad for what she did."

    But Bolles told DiMaggio it was an accident. He decided to let prosecutors decide if a criminal charge was warranted. Meanwhile, Oak Manor fired Bolles.

    Prosecutors reviewed the case and decided two weeks ago to file the charge. Bolles posted $5,000 bail and was released May 8 from the Pinellas County Jail.

    Bolles said the next day she should not be criminally charged. She said Witsaman had awakened about 3 a.m. and was screaming in the hallway. Bolles was pushing her into a dining room so her voice wouldn't echo down the hallway. Witsaman then grabbed the doorway, Bolles said.

    That's when she gave her a push. Witsaman's arms came free and she fell forward, Bolles said.

    "I wasn't intentionally trying to push her out of the wheelchair," Bolles said. "I was just trying to get her out of the doorway."

    Bolles said she has been a nurse for 30 years, with no sustained abuse complaints against her. She had worked at Oak Manor about six months. She isn't working now.

    The decision to file the charge was difficult, said Mark McGarry, a division director for the State Attorney's Office.

    But he said Bolles at first told police that Witsaman had been injured in a previous incident. When witnesses rebutted that, she changed her story. Witsaman's injury also didn't match Bolles' story.

    McGarry said witnesses also reported hearing Witsaman yelling at Bolles to stop hitting her.

    But McGarry acknowledged that prosecutors don't know exactly how Witsaman suffered the injury. They also don't have witnesses.

    At the time, Witsaman told police that a group of men in her room caused the injury. That story was dismissed because of her mental state.

    Prosecutors had hoped to interview her more in-depth, but Witsaman died Jan. 23 at Sun Coast Hospital. McGarry said that won't help prosecutors.

    Witsaman's daughter, Muriel Cameron, said she doesn't think her mother's death at age 97 had anything to do with the black eye. Witsaman had respiratory problems and was taken to the hospital Jan. 11, then got pneumonia and died, she said.

    Still, Cameron was upset that her mother was the victim of alleged abuse.

    "Her eye looked terrible," said Cameron, 77. "It looked like someone had beaten her up. They told me she had fallen and I didn't think she could have fallen and have gotten something like that. It makes me very sad."

    Cameron said her mother had lived alone in Clearwater until February of last year when a neighbor found her on the floor of her home, unable to get up. Cameron picked Oak Manor because it's close to her home. Her mother seemed happy there.

    In its last inspection, Oak Manor's overall score ranked it in the second lowest grouping (or better than only 21 to 40 percent) of facilities in Pinellas and Pasco counties, according to the Agency for Health Care Administration.

    That's better than its previous inspection, when the 180-bed facility ranked in the bottom 20 percent of facilities in the region.

    In late March, a nursing assistant was charged with aggravated elderly abuse on suspicion that she choked an elderly patient. Another assistant was charged with elderly neglect on suspicion she saw the abuse but didn't try to stop it. Both women worked for contracting agencies.

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