Over the past five years, the Rastelle Manor assisted-living facility on Ridgewood Avenue has racked up $36,000 in fines from the state and has been cited for multiple deficiencies and complaints.
In July, it all caught up with the facility’s owners. Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration, which is responsible for the licensing and regulation of Florida’s Health facilities, issued a final order.
The owners agreed to a settlement that states they will have to pay the $36,000 fine and will no longer be able to renew their license to operate Rastelle Manor or apply for a new license to operate another assisted-living facility. And unless they find a buyer for the facility, they will need to vacate the property by Sept. 13 and the residents will have to find a new place to live.
Owners Cheryl and Winston Bernabe — who operate under Bersonn LLC and also own New Era Assisted-Living Facility in Lakeland — did not allow The News-Journal to speak to residents or the facility’s employees, and as of earlier this week had yet to tell residents about the final order, which was issued on July 11. They are hastily working to close a deal with a buyer, the name of whom they would not disclose.
“We don’t want to rattle the residents unless we are sure it’s going to happen,” said Cheryl Bernabe. “We are supposed to tell them seven days before (they are required to leave) to give enough notice.”
However, according to AHCA, owners are required to notify residents 30 days before the the facility is set to close. If they do not find a buyer by Sept. 13, they would have already violated the Florida statute and could face additional fines.
The Berabes have had control of the home since 2005. Since July 2015, the 25-bed facility at 934 S. Ridgewood Ave. has been cited for countless violations including:
- Failing to honor the rights of a resident who did not have a “do not resuscitate” order. An employee failed to administer life-saving CPR to that resident.
- Failure to update employee rosters, training and conduct background screenings.
- Failure to honor residents’ rights to a bug-free environment with undamaged bedding and proper grooming care.
- Failure to properly monitor residents’ medications, in some instances giving them the wrong dosage of medications or medications on the wrong days.
- Failure to provide social and leisure activities.
- Unsanitary bathroom conditions where mold, urine and feces covered floors and walls.
“It’s very unfortunate,” said Cheryl Bernabe, who explained that their residents were happy. “There were some regulations we failed to comply. It’s not regulations that harmed any of the residents or anything. It was more documentation and paperwork.”
According to ACHA, the Bernabe’s Lakeland facility, New Era Assisted Living, has not had any violations since they took over ownership in 2009. The ACHA settlement states the owners will still be able to operate that facility, but they will not be able to apply for any other assisted-living facility licenses in the future.
Brian Lee is executive director for Families for Better Care, a non-profit citizen advocacy group dedicated to bringing awareness to the conditions of assisted-living facilities. He said Rastelle Manor’s most disturbing violation came in April 2018, when a resident complained to an AHCA investigator during a visit that they had been given a mattress that a previous resident had burned. The mattress had been wrapped in plastic and was infested with bed bugs — an issue that has come up on numerous occasions since 2016.
“It’s pretty grotesque, shockingly grotesque,” Lee said. “It’s wrong on so many levels. It’s horrific and it’s been going on for years. They pay for this care and they are given bug-infested mattresses to sleep on.”