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Questions arise over ant bite victim's care

Two state agencies and the police are investigating the death of a nursing home resident with 1,625 ant bites.

By Staff and wire reports

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 27, 2000

Relatives of the woman who died after suffering 1,625 ant bites as she lay in her nursing home bed initially were told she suffered only a few bites, their attorney said.

Later that day, on May 18, they received another call from the nursing home staff saying that "you need to understand that her condition is much worse than what it was before," said the attorney, Don Greiwe.

So Edgar Gay of Sarasota and Jane Perin of Englewood went to see their mother, Mary L. Morales Gay, 87, at the Quality Health Care Center in North Port.

Their mother "obviously was bitten extensively on her arms and chest and back," Greiwe said. She "was not communicating, which was entirely different than the night before," when she and Perin had eaten dinner together, he added.

When Perin asked the nursing home staff about medical treatment for her mother, "she had been told that her doctor had been called and they were waiting for the doctor to respond there," Greiwe said.

What did the nursing home tell the doctor? And why did the doctor not arrive in the 33 hours that police say elapsed from the time of the ant attack to Gay's death?

"That's really what we're here trying to find," said Greiwe, a Tampa lawyer representing Perin and Edgar Gay.

Mary Gay's death is now being investigated by two state agencies as well as the Sarasota County medical examiner's office and local police.

"We have a lot of questions," Greiwe said. "We believe this certainly should not have happened. The "whys' are interesting, but the bottom line is it shouldn't have happened."

The initial police report prepared by North Port police Detective Stephen Lorenz quotes Rick McEwen, an investigator for the Department of Children and Families Adult Protective Services Division, as saying the doctor was told Gay only had "a few" ant bites.

But Lorenz said he has since interviewed several people at the nursing home who said they had made it clear Gay suffered from a large number of ant bites.

Lorenz said the nursing home's doctor, Juan Masi, was notified immediately of the attack, but did not see Gay even after he was told she was getting sicker.

"He was told she had multiple ant bites and was called later in the day and advised that her situation was deteriorating," Lorenz said. "When the doctor is notified, he makes the decisions on treatment."

Gay was treated with medicines, adjustments were made as her condition worsened and nurses did only what the doctor ordered, Lorenz said. No one called for an ambulance, he said.

Lorenz said he has tried but has not yet succeeded in interviewing the physician. "I'm waiting for a call back right now," he said.

Masi could not be reached for comment.

Dan Weatherly, a spokesman for Bon Secours-St. Joseph's Healthcare Group, with which Masi is affiliated, said Masi responded appropriately to the information he was provided.

It will be several weeks before tests are completed to determine the cause of Gay's death, officials said.

Her family visited daily during the two months she lived at the home, which is in southern Sarasota County about 65 miles south of Tampa, where Gay was born in 1912.

Greiwe said Gay was ill, but not incapacitated. As far as the family was aware, she did not have Alzheimer's disease. She was aware of her surroundings, Greiwe said.

The ants apparently attacked after a nurse checked on Gay at 6:30 a.m. A housekeeper found her 90 minutes later covered with the insects. The ants appear to have burrowed into Gay's room through the wall from an outside mound.

Lorenz said his investigation also shows the nursing home had routine pest control treatments.

Steven Rachin, the state's chief advocate for nursing home residents, said he was horrified to hear of the attack. He noted that in August a Tallahassee nursing home patient received several hundred bites as ants swarmed her bed.

"These kinds of cases only make you sad," Rachin said. "Unfortunately, it takes these kinds of incidents to lead to the changes to prevent them from happening to other people."

The incident did not give Kathryn Powell of Englewood any qualms about keeping her 75-year-old mother in the Quality Care nursing home.

"They give my mom very good care," she said, while stopping by to visit her mother on Friday.

Powell, an emergency room nurse, said she checked with paramedics and others before deciding to place her mother at the center. She said she has been pleased with the results.

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