George Austin Spells, a 71-year-old resident of D.C. Village, died yesterday morning at Washington Hospital Center where he was taken two weeks ago after suffering critical burns from scalding bath water at the city-run nursing home.
His sister, Katheryn Spells Jackson, said yesterday that Spells told her during a recent hospital visit that a D.C. Village nurse had put him in the bathtub of scalding water, where he was found with second- and third-degree burns.
A spokesman for the D.C. Department of Human Services, Charles Seigel, had said earlier that Spells had learned to pull himself out of his wheelchair and lift himself into the tub without anyone seeing him and that he had been admonished for doing so.
But Jackson said yesterday that her wheelchair-bound, mentally incapacitated brother had been "very weak" and that there was "no way he could have put himself in the tub."
D.C. Public Health Commissioner Andrew McBride, who has oversight responsibilities at D.C. Village, said he was unaware of that allegation and that investigators will be asked to look into it.
McBride said the case has been referred to the D.C. police department homicide unit for further investigation, which he called normal procedure.
Spells' scalding and death is the second fatal incident at D.C. Village this year that has been investigated. In January, an 86-year-old resident, Wilhelmina Franklin, was found frozen to death on the facility's grounds next to her wheelchair.
Disciplinary action is to be taken soon against staff members in Franklin's death, city officials said.
Staff members did not search for her immediately after the discovery during bed checks that she was not in her room, and she was found at 4 a.m., persons involved in the investigation said at the time of the death.
As a result of the fatal incidents, Human Services Director David Rivers ordered McBride last week to take more direct control of the facility.
Spells worked for a tobacco company for 25 years in North Carolina before Jackson brought him to live with her in Washington in 1965, she said. He moved into D.C. Village a few years ago.
Jackson said she has received no explanation of how her brother was scalded. "My brother suffered; oh, how he suffered," Jackson said. "It seems as though my world has just ended. We were so close."