Patients will be priority in care center closure

GARDNVERVILLE - The care and relocation of elderly residents will be a priority for state health officials as they keep a close eye on the closure of Valley Meadows Living Center over the next few weeks.

Employees were told last week that the beleaguered center will close no later than Dec. 23.

The announcement capped a turbulent period that included a state declaration that the convalescent facility was substandard, an apparent collapse of negotiations to bring in a new operator and the sudden resignation of the facility's administrator.

About 100 workers will be jobless and 60 to 70 patients will be relocated, according to one employee.

Luana Ritch, information officer for the state Bureau of Health and Licensure, said state inspectors will monitor Valley Meadows in the coming weeks, both to ensure care at the facility doesn't deteriorate and to assist with relocation.

State inspectors have been conducting unannounced visits since Valley Meadows was declared substandard in two areas after an October inspection.

"We're going to be in there on a continuing basis to assure the residents continue to receive care and that the plans for transferring, and the actual transfers, are done to protect the residents," she said. "The bureau's role is to assure the well being and the care of the individuals continues."

Ritch said conditions at the facility, which has space for 125 residents, had been improving, though state and federal admissions bans had been imposed. A 122-page report issued after the October inspection found the facility substandard in the areas of patient body-weight monitoring and bowel care and listed problems in several other areas.

"We have not found that any new issues have come up," Ritch noted. "We have found that, actually, the facility is starting to correct some of the deficiencies noted at our last inspection."

Ritch said state regulations require Valley Meadows to notify residents, their families and legal representatives of the impending closure and work together on the transfer plans.

Patients insured by Medicaid or Medicare must be transferred to facilities that meet the licensing requirements for those programs. Ritch predicted no problems in finding enough beds in Northern Nevada.

"We anticipate the residents will be transferred without incident," she said.

Closure of the center was announced Tuesday to some employees, then confirmed in five-sentence statement issued Wednesday.

It said the Gardnerville Ranchos nursing center is voluntarily relinquishing its Medicare and Medicaid provider status, effective Dec. 23. The facility could close earlier if beds for the current patients are found.

The statement cited the financial status of Valley Meadows Inc., the employee-owned group that took over the facility in April, as a reason for the decision.

Nursing Director Bonnie Carver refused to elaborate on the brief statement or take questions about the number of employees or patients who will be affected by the closure.

Some employees said they found out second-hand that Valley Meadows was closing.

"I feel kind of angry at them for not calling the employees who were off work, rather than letting them hear it through the grapevine," said one employee, who said he worked at Valley Meadows for five years. "We've seen it all. This is really a heck of a way to go out, right before the holidays."

Valley Meadows has been through several administrators in the last five years. Carson-Tahoe Hospital bought it in 1995, then leased it to an Arizona-based company called Premier Care Services in August 1997 after losing money. Premier Care defaulted on a $1 million hospital loan, which the hospital is now trying to recover.

Valley Meadows went into receivership in October 1998, where it remained until the employee group took over in April. Sources said the most recent administrator, Jim Heinzen, abruptly resigned earlier in the month.

Concerns about the employee group's financial solvency spurred the owner of the Valley Meadows building, PDQ Limited Partnership, to find a new operator. In September, Dave Pumphrey, a PDQ partner, and George Repchick, chief operating officer for MultiCare Management of Cleveland, Ohio, publicly confirmed that MultiCare planned to begin managing Valley Meadows.

MultiCare officials have since denied any involvement with Valley Meadows, though Pumphrey said earlier in the month MultiCare had signed a lease to manage the facility.

Asked what happened to the MultiCare plans, Pumphrey said Wednesday, "On Oct. 12, the facility was found to be substandard. That's what happened."

Pumphrey said Wednesday he hadn't been forewarned of the closure.

"They haven't informed me," he said. "I've heard nothing from them. I don't know what's happening now."

Pumphrey said he will address the issue starting Monday.

"I will help in any way that I am permitted to help," he said. "The first, number one thing to help is to not move (residents)."


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