GRANVILLE -- State investigators are probing the death of a 58-year-old Granville man at Indian River Rehabilitation and Nursing Center after he apparently lay dead in his bed for hours before being found, according to sources with knowledge of the investigation.
John “Punk” Zellars died unexpectedly Feb. 23 at the nursing home, where he had been staying for more than three months because of kidney problems, according to his brother Kevin Zellars.
Investigators from the state Office of the Attorney General and state Department of Health were on the scene Monday.
Attorney General spokeswoman Michelle Hook confirmed Tuesday that her office was probing a recent death at the facility. Hook declined further comment because the investigation was ongoing. Multiple calls to the Health Department on Tuesday and Wednesday weren’t returned.
But a source close to the investigation, speaking under the condition of anonymity because they weren’t cleared to discuss the probe, said Tuesday that Zellars’ body was in full rigor mortis when he was found dead the morning of Feb. 23 by facility staff. It typically takes between six and 12 hours for a body to reach full rigor mortis.
“I saw him Friday night and he was gone early Saturday morning,” Kevin Zellars said Wednesday. “He laid in bed for four hours and 45 minutes before the family was called.”
John Zellars’ death raises question about how closely the ailing patient was monitored overnight, officials said.
No local law enforcement agency was aware of the issue at Indian River when contacted Tuesday.
Washington County Coroner Ed Parsons, a Granville resident, wasn’t called to Zellars’ death, he said. Coroners aren’t typically called to nursing homes and hospitals to declare a resident deceased because the facilities have in-house physicians, Parsons said.
Kevin Zellars declined commenting on the specifics leading up to his brother’s death, citing requests from state investigators to refrain from publicly discussing the case while it’s open. The family has not contacted an attorney, Zellars said.
David Guasta was named Indian River’s new administrator on Monday, the same day state investigators descended on the private facility.
“I just started here yesterday,” he said Tuesday when called by The Post-Star. “I’m sorry, I can’t help you.”
Rural nursing homes throughout New York have struggled with maintaining staffing levels, often relying on outside agency nurses to fill vacant shifts.
John Zellars was a well-known figure about town.
He was a regular at local bingo halls, known for keeping close tabs on area emergency scanner chatter and for making pot holders, according to his family and his obituary.
“It’s tough,” Kevin Zellars said of his brother’s passing.