It's not uncommon for people to die in personal care homes. Many residents are old or ill, and their families accept when death occurs and can come to terms with their loved one's passing.
The circumstances of June Hassler's death at Emeritus at Allentown on Greenleaf Street were anything but acceptable to her family, which has not been able to cope.
Hassler, 86, died of natural causes shortly before Christmas and the home did not find her for "a good 36 hours," according to Lehigh County Coroner Scott Grim.
Employees at the home believed Hassler had left the premises, according to an inspection report from the state Department of Public Welfare. Sadly, there were clues that she hadn't left.
"The home wasn't sure where she was," said Ron Melusky, a director at the Department of Public Welfare. "That, of course, is very serious."
Citing a violation of a resident's rights and other issues, the department revoked Emeritus at Allentown's regular operating license last week and put it on provisional status. In the inspection report, the department said "inadequate progress" had been made in correcting violations discovered during an inspection. The home was inspected several days after Hassler's death.
Melusky told me he could not confirm or deny that the deceased resident who is referenced in the state report is Hassler. Her son, Ron Hassler, and Lee Moyer, executive director of Emeritus at Allentown, confirmed it is.
The circumstances of June Hassler's death have left the family distraught and unable to come to grips with it, said Ron Hassler, of North Whitehall Township.
"I just didn't think she deserved to be found the way she was found," he said.
The family doesn't feel they were able to celebrate her life and say their proper goodbyes, as they had to have a closed-casket funeral service because of the condition of his mother's body.
"That makes it hard to bring some closure to it all," Hassler told me Thursday.
Grim found the case unsettling too. He told me he filed a complaint with the state about Hassler's death.
"I felt it was necessary," Grim told me.
Melusky told me he could not confirm that a complaint had been filed, but said the home filed an incident report, as required.
This is the third time in four years the state has put the home, operated by Emeritus Corp. of Seattle, on a provisional license. In 2009, the state was concerned enough that it refused to renew the home's license to operate, but an agreement was reached allowing the home to remain open.
Often referred to as assisted living or retirement homes, personal care homes are for people who do not need nursing home or medical care but need help eating, bathing, walking or carrying out daily tasks, such as taking medication, shopping and doing laundry. The homes do not have to employ medical staff and are regulated by the state Department of Public Welfare.
Moyer, the home's executive director, told me that Hassler and her roommate told numerous employees that Hassler would be going to visit her family.
"We were devastated and deeply saddened to find her deceased in a locked bathroom at the community while we expected her to be with her family," Moyer said in a written statement.
The state report says the bathroom is in Hassler's bedroom. In response to my follow-up questions about her statement, Moyer told me Hassler's roommate did not question why she could not access her bathroom for a time.
She said the home is cooperating with the state and is implementing new policies and procedures to prevent similar incidents in the future.