The scalding death of George Austin Spells, a resident of the city-run D.C. Village nursing home, apparently would not have occurred if the District were in compliance with its own and federal regulations on water temperature at nursing homes.
"The water was hotter than it should have been," confirmed Charles Seigel, a spokesman for the D.C. Department of Human Services, which runs the nursing home.
Part of the problem was a faulty pipe in the tub in which Spells was scalded, Seigel said. "It's been a problem for a little while with that tub," he said.
A warning sign had been placed at the tub about the water temperature, Seigel said.
D.C. health-care facility regulations state: "The temperature of hot water at fixtures used by residents at nursing-care facilities shall be automatically controlled and shall not exceed 110 degrees Fahrenheit."
According to health experts, a person cannot receive second- or third-degree burns, such as Spells suffered, in water below 110 degrees.
Federal regulations for this type of facility require that local water-temperature safety regulations be followed.
Meanwhile, The Washington Post has learned of a scalding a week earlier at the city-run Washington Center for Nursing Services.
A 61-year-old resident, Catherine Bicksler, was burned in a shower on March 13 while a nursing assistant verbally abused her, Veronica Pace, director of the D.C. Office on Aging, confirmed yesterday. Pace's office runs the 248-bed nursing home in Northeast.
Bicksler was hospitalized at the Washington Hospital Center until March 28 with second-degree burns on her back, left thigh and chest, a hospital spokeswoman said.
The aide who was bathing her was fired March 14; Bicksler is back at the home.
"We considered it a verbal abuse situation," said Pace, who added that the incident was reported to police.
Pace said city inspectors found the water temperature was "not in excess" of regulations, but she could not explain how Bicksler was scalded.
Spells died Monday morning at Washington Hospital Center after suffering second- and third-degree burns from scalding bath water at the nursing home March 19. The D.C. Medical Examiner's Office listed the cause of death as thermal injuries followed by pneumonia and septicemia (blood poisoning).
Spells' death is under investigation by both the D.C. Police Department's homicide unit and the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. DCRA also is investigating the Bicksler scalding.
DHS officials had said the wheelchair-bound, mentally incapacitated Spells had managed to lift himself into the scalding bath water. He had been admonished before for this kind of thing, they said.
But Spells' sister, Katheryn Spells Jackson, told The Washington Post on Monday that Spells had said before his death that a nurse had put him in the bathtub.
Jackson's son, Thurman W. Jackson Jr., said in a telephone interview yesterday that he was in the room during the conversation between Spells and his mother, and he supported his mother's account.
D.C. Public Health Commissioner Andrew McBride, who was recently given direct responsibility for D.C. Village following two unusual deaths there this year, said a reporter's inquiry to him was the first he had heard of Jackson's account of her conversation with her brother.
McBride yesterday declined to discuss any specifics of the incident.
Mayor Marion Barry said yesterday he would not judge the situation until he got more facts.
"There's a difference of opinion as to what happened," Barry said. "The staff report is that the person lifted himself up out of the chair and got in the tub."
Asked how a person in Spells' condition could have done that, Barry replied: "I don't know. I know people who are in a lot of conditions who lift themselves out."