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Family sues assisted living facility where mother suffered burns

The family of a woman who died as a result of being left outside in the scalding July heat for several hours is suing the Port St. Lucie assisted living facility where the incident blamed for her death occurred.

After suffering heat stroke and severe burns at The Harbor Place at Port St. Lucie, Kathleen “Kay” Menard died almost three months later.

“We filed this lawsuit this morning in what we believe is a case of outrageous neglect at a nearby assisted-living facility where a wonderful woman essentially burned to death due to a facility not keeping any tabs on her and allowing her to bake outside in the summer heat for many, many hours,” Scott Fischer, an attorney with Gordon & Doner, Palm Beach Gardens, who represents the family, said Thursday.

The wrongful death lawsuit filed against Port St. Lucie Retirement Investors LLC doing business as The Harbor Place at Port St. Lucie was brought on behalf of Menard’s estate and her son and daughter, Joseph Menard and Maria Gryner.

Menard, 97, a widow and former homemaker in Stuart, had resided at The Harbor Place for more than nine years. After breakfast on July 5, 2017, she drove her electric scooter into the courtyard to read her Bible. At some point, she fell off the scooter to the ground.

“Kay was 97 and as feisty and ornery as she had ever been in her life before this happened,” her daughter Maria Gryner said Thursday. “She always had a fall risk, and that is why we had her in assisted living.”

“This didn’t have to happen. She didn’t have a heart attack. She didn’t have a stroke. It was the heat. In this day and age in Florida, one would think people would make sure their residents aren’t burning to death,” Gryner said.

After being found in the courtyard approximately six hours later by the family of another resident, Menard was found lying on the ground and unconscious. She was rushed to St. Lucie Medical Center where her temperature was 105.7 degrees. Menard was found to have severe burns on her body and to have suffered from heat stroke resulting in sepsis — in infection in the bloodsteam, the lawsuit states.

“She could not survive this catastrophic heat event, and she died on September 29, 2017,” the lawsuit states.

A manager at Harbor Place declined to comment Thursday.

Tampa-based Ullman Bursa Law, which Fischer said represents Harbor Place, did not return a phone call requesting comment.

Cleveland, Tenn.-based Life Care Centers of America operates or manages more than 200 skilled nursing, rehabilitation, Alzheimer’s and senior living campuses in 28 states, including Harbor Place.

“At Harbor Place at Port St. Lucie, providing compassionate care to our residents while ensuring they receive the utmost respect, dignity and independence is our highest priority,” said Leigh Atherton, director of public relations for Life Care. “We take any allegation to the contrary seriously. We will not discuss specifics of any individual as it would violate the privacy rights of that resident.”

Fischer said Menard had fallen at least 14 times at the facility, including a previous fall in the courtyard, and the staff knew she needed supervision. The family trusted the facility, but instead of doing its job, the staff failed to keep her safe, he said.

“But the worst thing was never checking on her at all. Where was the head count? Where was the accountability?” Fischer asked.

Mennard’s death certificate lists her cause of death as a fall from her scooter, heat stroke and severe burns on her feet.

After being discharged from the hospital after a few days, Menard never returned to her previous healthy condition. She went back to to Harbor Place briefly, then was placed in a skilled nursing facility owned by the same company.

Gryner said, “She was in horrific pain. She used to scream when they would come to change her bandages. It literally broke your heart to see her like that. The dementia she had afterwards was ten-fold. She was like a little child.”

But after her hospital stay, she did manage to tell a staff member of the assisted-living facility, “You didn’t have to leave me like that.”

“She said she called and called for help and no one came,” Gryner said. “I’m angry. I’m frustrated. I don’t feel like she should have had to suffer like that at all….If someone had found her, she would have been fine.”

Menard’s son Joseph Menard said he and his wife had lunch with his mother on July 4, and she was doing well. Always dressed “to the nines” including a white suit, makeup, scarves and jewelry, she wolfed down a hamburger, chicken and corn-on-the-cob.

She and her family thought she would live to be 100, Menard said.

The lawsuit seeks wrongful death damages in excess of $15,000.

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