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"Inland nursing home tied to
Pomona facility that faces federal funding cutoff"

The Press–Enterprise

The Press–Enterprise
10:00 PM PST on Monday, December 17, 2007

A Pomona nursing home identified as one of the state’s poorly performing facilities is set to lose its Medicare and Medicaid funding on Wednesday, which could force some residents to find new homes.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, the federal agency that regulates nursing homes, notified the 231–bed Ember Health Care last month that it would no longer pay for Medicaid recipients to live at the facility.

The nursing home is one of five former Pleasant Care Corp. facilities, including Ember Care Health Center in Perris, bought by Integrated Nursing and Rehab Care Inc. at a July auction.

Pleasant Care Corp., once the state’s second–largest nursing home corporation, filed for bankruptcy earlier this year. The Perris nursing home plus Pleasant Care Convalescent in Riverside and Pleasant Care Convalescent of Corona were among 26 facilities sold.

Pasadena attorney Eugene Alkana, identified by the California Secretary of State’s Office as Integrated Nursing and Rehab Care’s agent, had little information Monday.

"To my knowledge, the owners are working on getting an extension," he said.

Paula Perse, of Medicare and Medicaid’s licensing and certification division, said Friday that the Pomona facility’s history of compliance problems led to the agency’s decision to terminate funding. The nursing home was last inspected Sept. 19 and found to be out of compliance with federal standards, she said. She couldn’t be reached Monday to determine whether she rescinded the termination.

Joe Williams, the Pomona facility’s administrator, couldn’t be reached Monday to say how many residents would be affected by the funding termination or whether the agency had been given an extension.

The facility owner must provide proof of significant improvements and staff changes to get an extension, Perse said Friday. By law, non–compliant nursing homes have six months to meet federal standards before Medicare and Medicaid must terminate funding, she said.

The Pomona facility has been in and out of trouble with Medicare and Medicaid since 1996, records show. In June 2006, it was placed in a special federal program that requires poorly performing nursing homes to improve or lose federal funding, records show.

Pat McGinnis, executive director of the state’s consumer watchdog group, California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, said termination notices tend to be idle threats. Medicare and Medicaid routinely rescind termination notices, she said.

Termination "only happens a handful of times," McGinnis said. "When it does happen, it tends to harm residents. It still doesn’t mean the facility will close down."

Residents who have no money and rely on Medicaid to pay for nursing home care will be forced to leave if federal funding is terminated.

The Pomona facility faced a cutoff in funding three times between 1997 and 2005, records show. Each time, termination was rescinded after follow–up investigations.

"There’s no question in that there tends to be a pattern with problems," McGinnis said. "This system doesn’t work."

Problems at Ember Health Care in Pomona and the other former Pleasant Care facilities are well–documented. State and federal officials could have appointed temporary managers to operate the nursing homes and avoid funding termination, she said.

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.

Lea Brooks, spokeswoman for the California Department of Public Health said the department is reviewing licensing applications for three facilities that Integrated Nursing and Rehab Care bought. She didn’t identify the facilities.

"It’s like they’re thumbing their nose at the consumer," McGinnis said. "They are much more concerned about what the nursing home industry thinks than what the consumer thinks."