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Senior home sued in death of longtime Baysider

The son of a Bayside woman who choked to death on a hot dog at an upscale Little Neck retirement facility wants to make sure the same thing does not happen to other families.

Stu Sleppin filed a wrongful death suit against the owners and staff of the Brandywine Assisted Living at The Savoy on Little Neck Parkway, where his mother Estelle Itzkowitz briefly lived before her death in 2006. The suit, filed Feb. 25 in Queens Supreme Court, charges that the facility and its staff were negligent because staff members did not administer the Heimlich maneuver while his mother was choking.

Instead, the suit claims the staff failed to use the life-saving maneuver, depriving Itzkowitz of oxygen for a full 11 minutes before paramedics arrived.

"Eleven minutes without oxygen doesn't do anyone much good, even if they are in $5,000-a-month facility," " said Judith Donnel, Sleppin's lawyer.

Rose Ann Chalmers, community relations director for the Savoy and one of the parties named in the suit, did not respond to requests for comment.

According to Sleppin, his mother, then 79, was having lunch at the facility March 27, 2006, when she started to choke on a hot dog.

EMS records indicate that the Savoy staff called paramedics around 12:45 p.m., but did not check Itzkowtiz's breathing or pulse.

Paramedics arrived at about 12:56 p.m., administered CPR and removed a piece of a hot dog from Itzkowitz's throat, EMS records show.

A Savoy staff member wrote the following on Itzkowitz's chart: "Estelle was eating a hot dog at lunch and passed out onto the table. She did not make any gagging noises .... Heimlich maneuver was performed until EMS got here — nothing dislodged."

Donnel calls the facility's account "inconsistent."

"If there was no gagging, then why would they even perform [the Heimlich]?" she asked.

Following his mother's death, Sleppin said he spoke with Savoy residents who were dining with Itzkowitz that day and told him that the Heimlich was not performed.

Donnel said the purpose of the lawsuit is to make the Savoy's owners take responsibility for what happened. "We are trying to prevent something like this from happening to someone else," she said.

The facility is currently owned by Brandywine Senior Living, a New Jersey-based company with facilities in five states, which acquired the Savoy last July.

Brandywine CEO Brenda Bacon said she could not comment on the lawsuit since her company did not own the facility at the time, but called Itzkowitz's death a "tragedy."

"Our hearts and prayers go out to the family," she said. "We are very proud of our team members and our residents and family at the Savoy."

Itzkowitz had lived in the facility for only a handful of weeks before her death, her son said.

She grew up in the Bronx, but spent most of her life in Bayside, where she raised her three children, her son said. Sleppin, who lives in Manhattan with his family, described his mother as "very social" woman, who survived a bout with pancreatic cancer and outlived two husbands.

Itzkowitz decided to move into the facility after her second husband died, Sleppin said. She looked at other facilities, some outside the city, her son said, but Itzkowitz wanted to stay in the neighborhood.

"She always considered herself a Queens gal," he said.

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