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Outrage Over Sudden Nursing Home Closing

Elderly: Families, officials ask why evictions took place with little notice. Two other facilities may shut down.

September 28, 1997|CLAIRE VITUCCI | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The court-appointed manager of a bankrupt Reseda nursing home that abruptly evicted its 63 residents Friday night had failed in last-minute negotiations to sell the facility and contends that there was not enough cash to run it even one more day, authorities said Saturday.

Two other nursing homes owned by the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Phoenix Health Group, in Alta Loma and Long Beach, could face closures this week, depending on the outcome of a Monday morning hearing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Woodland Hills.

It could not be determined Saturday how many more elderly and chronically ill patients may be affected by the health care company's financial problems. Those at the Reseda Care Center in the San Fernando Valley, including a 106-year-old woman, were rolled into the street late Friday in wheelchairs and on hospital beds, bundled in blankets as relatives scurried to gather up clothes and other personal belongings.

"The most pathetic part of it was that it had to occur in the middle of the night," said Victor Arkin, chief of the health facilities division of the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services.

Arkin said the California Department of Health will be investigating whether any laws were violated, including one requiring a minimum 30-day eviction notice to state officials that a skilled nursing facility may be closing.

"Not only was there the inconvenience of the bad timing involved, but all people normally sleep at those hours," Arkin said. "To traumatize the old patients like that is unconscionable."

All the patients were placed among 12 nursing homes, all in the Valley except for one in Santa Monica, Arkin said. It will be up to the families to decide whether they want to keep their elderly members where they are or move them again.

The nursing home's court-appointed trustee, Alfred Siegel, had little choice because he could not find a buyer willing to cover the immediate costs of keeping the home open and paying creditors, including unpaid staff, his attorney said.

"Anybody who wanted to come in, the money they would have had to put in was more than $100,000," said bankruptcy attorney Sheri Bluebond. "And nobody knew if they were going to see that money again."

Siegel, a certified public accountant, was appointed trustee Wednesday to manage the nursing home's finances, Bluebond said. The Phoenix Health Group filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy Sept. 5, she added.

Between Wednesday and Friday evening, Siegel negotiated with three management companies to either temporarily assume control of the nursing home or buy it outright, Bluebond said. He also tried to negotiate a bank loan. But all his efforts collapsed about 7 p.m. Friday, she said.

That afternoon, as a last attempt to find a buyer was pending, Siegel's office began notifying physicians of the probable closure. The nursing home's staff did not begin calling patients' families until after 7 p.m., Arkin said, telling them the facility was closing that night. They could either make their own arrangements to place their loved ones elsewhere, they were told, or wait to learn where the county had transferred them, Arkin said.

Some relatives were still calling the county Saturday evening to learn of their elderly relatives' location, Arkin said.

The nursing home's residents and their relatives were not notified earlier of the problems and possible evictions because Siegel believed that a buyer would come through, Bluebond said.

Why the nursing home's closure could not wait until at least the morning was a matter of some debate among angry relatives, Arkin and others. Bluebond said it was because the nursing home was running out of food, because Siegel feared that its staff, which had not been paid in three weeks, would refuse to work, and because the nursing home's insurance policy expired three weeks ago.

The nursing home's administrator, Bill Mohr, described the staff as a dedicated group that had continued working without compensation. He said Saturday that there was enough food to last through the weekend, though it would have been tight after that.

"I think it's unacceptable," attorney Marc Beilinson, who represents the Phoenix Health Group, said of the home's sudden closure. "In my mind, what occurred last night should never have happened. The bankruptcy lawyers, lenders and trustees have got to care more about people in a situation like this."

The financial and legal details were of little comfort to relatives, who said they were given no notice of the nursing home's problems and imminent closure. The last of the Reseda center's residents were taken away about 6:30 a.m. Saturday after relatives helped them move out.

Many of the sons and daughters of the elderly residents were themselves in their 60s, including some who teetered under the weight of the TVs they carried from rooms.

Lucy Cortese, 68, said she was able to finally move out her mother, Pauline Guzzone, 88, at 1 a.m.

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