Thursday, July 12, 2007

Most of Pleasant Care Nursing Homes Sell at Auction


The state's second-largest nursing home corporation, which filed for bankruptcy earlier this year, has sold most of its facilities, including three in the Inland area.

Last week's auction of 21 Pleasant Care Corp. facilities brought in $16.6 million, according to federal Bankruptcy Court records in Los Angeles. Pleasant Care will operate the facilities until the new owners receive licenses from the California Department of Public Health, which regulates nursing homes in the state.

LifeHouse Retirement Properties Inc., based in Grand Rapids, Mich., paid $7.2 million for four Pleasant Care facilities, including Pleasant Care Convalescent on Lakeview Avenue in Riverside.

Ember Care Health Center on Perris Boulevard in Perris is one of five facilities an owner identified as Bina Bhatia bought for $4.9 million.

A group identified as HC Management paid $200,000 for Pleasant Care Convalescent of Corona and Pleasant Care Assisted Living of Corona on Circle City Drive.

Lou Andriotti, president and CEO of LifeHouse Health Services Inc., said his corporation will take over Pleasant Care's Riverside facility on Aug. 1.

"There won't be any concern for patients or their family members," he said. "You won't see any cutbacks in care, although there might be changes made to improve efficiency."

Neither Bhatia nor anyone from HC Management could be reached Tuesday.

State nursing-home inspectors have been checking Pleasant Care's facilities to ensure they have stayed open and cared for residents since the corporation's March 22 bankruptcy filing by owner Emmanuel Bernabe.

Pleasant Care owes the state Department of Public Health 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.

Bernabe couldn't be reached Tuesday.

Pat McGinnis, executive director of California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, said she isn't familiar with the buyers of Pleasant Care's facilities. Her organization, which is a consumer advocacy group, has little confidence that the new owners will better operate the facilities, she said.

State nursing-home inspectors repeatedly have found health deficiencies and issued citations to Pleasant Care facilities. The state Department of Public Health recently fined Pleasant Care's Norwalk facility $80,000 in the 2005 death of a resident.

"We asked the Department of Public Health to do due diligence and find out who these owners are," McGinnis said. "We are going to put pressure on the department. We are also working with the local (long-term care) ombudsman programs to keep an eye on these places."

Last year, Pleasant Care Corp. agreed to pay $1.3 million and to 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 to 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 -- the state Department of Public Health's previous name.

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, according to records.

Buyers of Pleasant Care facilities won't be responsible for lawsuits filed against the nursing homes, according to court records.

Long Beach lawyer Stephen Garcia has at least two clients who have sued Pleasant Care's Riverside and Corona nursing homes for negligence. He said Thursday that he still plans to pursue his cases against Bernabe and family members who operated Pleasant Care Corp.

"We're going to go after them to the full extent of the law," Garcia said. "They thought they could file for bankruptcy and get away with it."

Reach Lora Hines at 951-368- 9444 or at lhines@PE. com

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