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"Nursing homes head to auction"

Original source:
The Press–Enterprise

10:00 PM PDT on Monday, June 25, 2007

The state’s second–largest nursing home corporation, which filed for bankruptcy earlier this year, is to auction all of its 27 California facilities next week.

The auction of Pleasant Care Corp.’s nursing homes, including three in the Inland area, starts at 10 a.m. Monday in Los Angeles. Minimum bids for Pleasant Care Convalescent on Lakeview Avenue in Riverside, Pleasant Care Convalescent on Circle City Drive in Corona and Ember Care Health Center on Perris Boulevard in Perris will be announced at the auction.

All three facilities remained open Monday. Neither Pleasant Care owner and CEO Emmanuel Bernabe nor his attorney Ron Bender could be reached.

State nursing home inspectors have been checking Pleasant Care's facilities to make sure they stay open and care for residents after the corporation’s March 22 bankruptcy filing, said Lea Brooks, spokeswoman for the California Department of Health Services. Pleasant Care will remain responsible for its facilities until new licenses are issued to new buyers, she said.

Pleasant Care owes the department more than $3.3 million, which includes almost $242,000 in licensing fees for nine facilities. State officials have said the nursing homes would be allowed to stay open as Pleasant Care reorganized its debt.

‘In Trouble’ for Years

"It just makes me angry that these poor people who live in these facilities have to put up with this," said Pat McGinnis, executive director of California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, a consumer advocacy group. "I think it’s disgusting. Pleasant Care has been in trouble with the state for years, and they think they can file bankruptcy and walk away."

McGinnis said state nursing home inspectors repeatedly have found health deficiencies and issued citations to Bernabe’s facilities. Last week, the state department of health fined Pleasant Care’s Norwalk facility $80,000 in the 2005 death of a resident.

"It’s become a joke with some of these facilities," McGinnis said.

"There have been fines and citations, but they didn’t make (Bernabe) do anything different. What did he do with all the money he made?"

Last year, the corporation agreed to pay $1.3 million and improve patient care to settle a lawsuit brought by then–state Attorney General Bill Lockyer. 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 reimburse the state $350,000 for investigative costs.

Pleasant Care has paid $675,000, according to the California Attorney General’s office.

Pleasant Care’s bankruptcy filing states the La Cañada–based company owes about $20.7 million to at least 19 creditors, including the Department of Health Services.

However, it could owe as much as $100 million to as many as 99 creditors, Bernabe claims in his filing. He estimated the corporation’s assets between $1 million and $100 million, records state.

Buyers of Pleasant Care facilities could be held responsible for lawsuits that have been filed against the nursing homes, said San Francisco attorney George Pillari, who is handling the auction.

"I don’t think anyone could do a worse job than Emmanuel Bernabe," McGinnis said. "But if you can’t sell the nursing homes to decent owners, some of them will close."

State law requires facilities to give written notice to nursing home residents or their guardians at least 30 days before they close, Brooks said. Facilities must submit relocation plans to the state health services department and the county long–term care ombudsman for approval, she said.

Lawsuit Moves Forward

Long Beach attorney Stephen Garcia is trying to move forward with his client’s lawsuit against Pleasant Care, despite its bankruptcy filing. In February, the granddaughter of former Pleasant Care resident Ida Mae Davis sued Pleasant Care Corp., claiming the staff at its Riverside facility allowed Davis to fall several times until she broke her hip.

The 81–year–old woman now lives at an Upland nursing home. Court documents state that Davis’ doctor doesn’t expect her to live another six months.

The bankruptcy court could decide next week whether Garcia can move forward against the corporation.

"If there’s a delay in the case and my client dies, Bernabe gets away with all the marbles," Garcia said.