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"Two Inland nursing homes face licensing deadline"

The Press–Enterprise

By Lora Hines
The Press–Enterprise
10:00 PM PST on Monday, December 24, 2007

Facing a Dec. 31 deadline, buyers of two Inland nursing homes have yet to get state licenses for those facilities, and a bankruptcy court has been asked to let them be sold to someone who can get them licensed.

Ember Care Health Center in Perris and Pleasant Care Convalescent of Corona still operate under the license of the former owner, Pleasant Care Corp., once the state’s second–largest nursing home corporation.

The facilities were among 27 sold at a July auction after the corporation filed for bankruptcy this year.

All the nursing homes were sold on the condition that the new owners would receive new state licenses by Dec. 31.

But the buyers of 10 facilities, including those in Perris and Corona, will not meet the deadline. However, the nursing homes are not going to be closed.

Pleasant Care’s chief operating officer, Joseph Tutera, has asked a bankruptcy court judge to allow him to try to find someone who can get the 10 facilities licensed.

In court documents, Tutera states it is unclear whether the state Public Health Department will ever issue the new buyers’ licenses and the Pleasant Care Corp. cannot afford to take back any facilities it sold.

Other remedies that Tutera offered could include extending the Dec. 31 licensing deadline or allowing for a state takeover of some facilities.

Lea Brooks, spokeswoman for the Public Health Department, would not say why the agency had not licensed the facilities or whether it would license them. The department still is reviewing the buyers’ applications, she said.

A corporation only identified as Loretto by the Public Health Department bought Pleasant Care Convalescent of Corona. No one from Loretto could be reached for comment.

Kathy Gonzales, administrator at the Perris facility, declined to comment.

Court documents state that Integrated Nursing and Rehab Care, which bought the Perris facility and two other Pleasant Care nursing homes, thinks resale would be premature and jeopardize residents’ health and safety.

Integrated Nursing and Rehab Care has not been granted new licenses for any of the nursing homes it bought. One of its facilities, Ember Health Care in Pomona, was to lose its Medicare and Medicaid funding last week.

The state Public Health Department ordered Ember Health Care to give 30 days notice to residents who rely on Medicare and Medicaid to pay for their nursing home care.

Newport Beach attorney Ismail Amin, who represents Integrated Nursing and Rehab Center, could not be reached for comment.

LifeHouse Retirement Properties Inc., which bought Pleasant Care Convalescent in Riverside, has received a license, according to the Public Health Department.

Last year, Pleasant Care Corp. settled a lawsuit brought by then–state Attorney General Bill Lockyer by agreeing to pay $1.3 million and to improve patient care.

The lawsuit came as a result of allegations of elder abuse and criminally negligent care at Pleasant Care facilities, including more than 160 violations of state regulations over a five–year period.

The corporation also agreed to pay a $1 million fine and to reimburse the state $350,000 for investigative costs.

It paid $675,000, according to the California attorney general’s office.

Pat McGinnis, executive director of the nonprofit consumer group California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, said the state could have stepped in years ago to protect residents at Pleasant Care’s facilities.

"Pleasant Care had some of the worst facilities in the state for years," she said. "It’s not like they just started showing problems."

The state Public Health Department has authority to appoint temporary managers at troubled nursing homes. It has monitored Pleasant Care’s facilities since the corporation declared bankruptcy in March, Brooks said.

The agency, she said, "has not determined that appointment of a temporary manager or closure of these facilities is appropriate."