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Yvonne Abraham

Change in managers restores facility’s health

Score one for the frail and defenseless.

In January, I wrote about a company called Videll Healthcare, a Seattle outfit that was running four nursing homes in Massachusetts, including Park Place, a sweet little gem of a facility in Hyde Park.

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Shortly after taking over Park Place in late 2012, Videll seemed determined to run it into the ground. The company had serious cash-flow problems from the start and failed to pay a bunch of bills. Trash piled up, phones went down, food deliveries stopped, and staff had to use their own money to buy basics for patients, such as milk. Longtime staffers quit or were driven away. The medical director resigned. The state froze admissions.

At the time, Videll chief executive Steve LaForte cited late reimbursements from Veterans Affairs as an explanation for the facility’s problems. The many e-mails I got after the column ran suggested the problems were deep. They asserted that Videll, which had also recently taken over facilities in Western Massachusetts and in other states, failed to pay bills, which endangered patients, and that the company brushed aside the concerns of worried employees.

In March, Griffin-American Healthcare, the California real estate investment trust that owns Park Place, booted Videll out of its four Massachusetts properties. Executives at Griffin knew there were problems at Park Place, but they had not realized how bad things had become. Griffin installed BaneCare, a well-regarded local firm, to take over Park Place and the other three facilities. The California firm filed a lawsuit against Videll.

I can generally be relied upon to rail against corporations looking to make massive profits in industries that care for the most vulnerable among us. But Griffin did the right thing here, and they did it fast, without any pushing from the state.

It’s a new day in Hyde Park.

‘Nursing homes shouldn’t be able to come and go under the cover of darkness.’

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“Everything just feels better,” says Polly Walker, whose 91-year-old mother, Cecile, is a resident at Park Place. “Bane seems to be doing a very good job. They’re much more forthcoming and open. It’s a very good crew.”

Chief executive Richard Bane says the state has lifted its freeze on patient admissions, and the home now has new, professional administrators. With more cash from Griffin, it’s regaining its former strength.

“We’re not out of the woods yet,” he says. “But we’re certainly a success story in the making.”

Elsewhere, residents in Videll homes are still struggling mightily. Last Wednesday, the state took over Laurel Center, a Videll facility in Bedford, N.H. There, too, state officials had been receiving complaints for more than a year, mostly over unpaid bills.

“I think they were just moving money around from facility to facility,” says John Martin, manager of health licensing and certification in New Hampshire. “The problem appeared to be economic viability. The quality of care has been consistently good.”

They can’t say the same in Minneapolis, where the state removed Videll from Camden Care and Rehabilitation Center last Friday. There, inspectors found that residents were in immediate jeopardy. In court documents, they cited a whopping 47 violations of federal regulations that could cause “serious injury, harm, impairment, or death to a resident.”

Yikes.

The chief financial officer of Sabra Health Care, the real estate investment trust that leased the Camden Center and another facility in Duffield, Va., to Videll, said the trust is reassessing its relationship with the management company.

Videll’s LaForte says the company is “transitioning” out of all of its remaining facilities.

“This is not a result anybody wanted,” he says. “It is an unfortunate situation. I regret the outcome.”

So, how did this happen?

Caring for elders who are dependent on Medicaid is always challenging, says Bane. In this state, Medicaid payments short facilities on patient costs to the tune of $37 per patient per day. He’s hoping the state will authorize an increase, the first since 2005.

Videll, a new company, lacked the expertise and experience to run homes in that difficult environment, he says. The firm also took over running the homes with way too little advance scrutiny.

Everybody in this business does that, says Senator Harriette Chandler. The Worcester Democrat has filed legislation calling for public hearings whenever the state issues or removes nursing home licenses. Operators should be made to say publicly how they would operate facilities, she says. And members of the community, local officials, and nursing home employees should be allowed to testify.

“Hospitals can’t come and go” without a public process, she says. “Nursing homes shouldn’t be able to come and go under the cover of darkness. We are talking about lives here.”

Amen to that. I hope the next administration is up to this challenge. Because, after pursuing this story for several months, I’m not sure the current one is. Getting information, even basic details, on Park Place from the Department of Public Health has been way too difficult. Responses take days or weeks or never come at all.

What gives? Maybe the state doesn’t have a handle on what is going on in the nursing homes it is supposed to be overseeing. Maybe they just can’t be bothered to inform the public about a matter that is vital to so many people. Maybe, a mere seven months from the end of Governor Deval Patrick’s administration they have senioritis and figure they’re done with the people’s business.

If it’s this hard to get timely responses from them when you’re a reporter with a public platform, imagine how frustrating it must be if you’re the anonymous daughter of someone in a nursing home or an employee who wants to raise the alarm about lousy conditions.

Videll is lucky that none of their clients came to serious harm. So is the state.

But as the baby boomers age, we’re going to see many more men and women, many of them reliant on Medicaid, taking refuge in nursing homes. We’re going to see many more big corporations looking to profit from their frail, crowded corner of society. And unless we’re more vigilant, we’re going to see way more neglect and abuse.

This battle may be over. But we still have to win the war.

Yvonne Abraham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at abraham@globe.com or on Twitter @GlobeAbraham
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