A former model known for her looks was eaten alive by parasitic mites due to a scabies infestation while in the care of a Georgia nursing home.
An investigation into the 2015 death of Rebecca Zeni, 93, revealed she died from scabies during her stay at the Shepherds Hill Nursing Home in LaFayette, 11 Alive reported.
An autopsy report stated the woman’s cause of death was “septicemia due to crusted scabies.”
State health officials were made aware of a scabies outbreak at the facility but did not investigate or inspect the nursing home, the station reported.
Scabies is an “infestation by the human itch mite. The microscopic scabies mite burrows into the upper layer of the skin where it lives and lays its eggs,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
WARNING: GRAPHIC PHOTO AHEAD
As a young woman, Zeni was employed at a naval yard during World War II, did some modeling in New York City and worked for a television station in Chicago. She was put in the nursing home by her daughter in 2010. Zeni suffered from dementia, the station reported, citing health records.
Zeni’s family is suing Pruitt Health, which runs the nursing home where the woman died.
“I don’t understand how you can allow a human being to suffer needlessly,” Mike Prieto, the family’s lawyer, said.
Pictures of Zeni before she died showed her skin blackened and flaky. Stephen Chance, an attorney representing the Zeni family, alleged the nursing home staff were told “not to touch Zeni’s hand.”
“There was a conversation at this nursing home with a health care provider about being careful about touching Ms. Zeni’s hand for fear that it might fall off her body,” Chance told 11Alive.
The news station asked Dr. Kris Sperry, a forensic pathologist, to look over Zeni’s autopsy report. Sperry said out of the 6,000 autopsies he has conducted, Zeni’s was “one of the most horrendous things I’ve ever seen in my career as a forensic pathologist.”
Sperry believed hundreds of millions of mites were burrowed inside Zeni during the time of her death. When asked if it was fair to say Zeni was “eaten alive,” he said it was likely she suffered a painful death.
“Having seen what I’ve seen with Ms. Zeni, I think that is frankly a good characterization,” Sperry said. “I would seriously consider calling this a homicide by neglect.”
Pruitt Health did not return requests for a comment, according to the station.
Records from the Georgia Department of Public Health showed officials were notified of the scabies outbreak at the nursing home in 2013 and 2015. The records showed 35 residents and staff were exposed to the infestation. The department did not inspect but sent the facility information on how to treat scabies. Zeni died 11 days after the response from the agency.
The outlet noted the state’s department of health “is not required to inspect facilities after learning about an outbreak,” but are expected to notify the Georgia Department of Community Health.
However, the department of health did not have any record showing the department of community health was notified of the outbreak.