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    Hospital to pay for missing dentures

    The man's $3,380 teeth disappeared during a visit to Mease Countryside for pneumonia.

    By MONIQUE FIELDS

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published June 15, 2001


    CLEARWATER -- Mease Hospitals has agreed to reimburse Ruel Garey for $3,380 he paid for his missing dentures after stories about the 91-year-old's plight reached as far as Utah.

    Mease Hospitals offered to pay for the dentures two days after his story was published in the St. Petersburg Times and appeared on the Associated Press' national wire. A hospital representative who called his attorney on Monday gave no explanation for the hospital's about-face, said John McGuire, the Clearwater attorney who represents Garey.

    In a faxed statement, Stan Blakey, a spokesman for Morton Plant Mease Health Care, confirmed that the matter had been settled but said the terms are confidential.

    The money will help pay off the remaining $1,000 that Garey owes a relative after he borrowed the money to buy the dentures.

    "I knew I was right all the way," Garey said. "Getting the whole thing off my mind is a good feeling."

    Mease Hospitals has agreed to cover the full cost of replacing Garey's missing dentures and to reimburse his attorney for filing charges, court costs and summons fees totaling $131.50, McGuire said.

    "I'm happy they did the right thing," said McGuire, who waived his fees in the case.

    Garey's dentures have been missing since January when he suffered a bout with double pneumonia and had to be admitted to Mease Countryside Hospital.

    On Jan. 9, he collapsed in the bathroom of his mobile home. His wife and a relative couldn't move him, so they called for an ambulance.

    When Garey woke up in the hospital's emergency room, a bad taste filled his mouth. He removed his dentures and put them in a cup next to his bed. Later, he discovered they were missing.

    Despite a search by hospital employees, his dentures were never recovered. A month later, the hospital attempted to make restitution and sent him a check for $800.

    But it fell short of the amount he needed to replace his dentures, and he rejected the offer. The hospital's parent company, Morton Plant Mease Health Care system, netted $540-million in total operating revenue in 1999, a spokesman said.

    He contended that the loss of his teeth was the hospital's responsibility and the carelessness of an employee forced him to eat pureed foods while hospitalized.

    The hospital, at first, disagreed.

    If a patient is alert and not under sedation or mind-altering drugs, a letter accompanying the check explained, he is responsible for items left in his possession.

    Undaunted, Garey wrote "canceled" across the check and typed a letter detailing his disappointment. When hospital administrators stopped taking his calls, he hired a lawyer and sued in small-claims court.

    "I had to do something," said Garey, a retired computer specialist and World War II veteran.

    In the coming weeks, Garey expects to receive a check from Mease Hospitals. As soon as he does, he will settle another debt of sorts.

    "When I go down and get the money, I'm going to insist that he (McGuire) and his wife go out and get a steak with us," he said. "I can afford that."

    - Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.

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