Everybody’s business

Photo By Tom Angel

Rehab confab
The families of people receiving care at Chico Creek Care and Rehabilitation on Rio Lindo Avenue may have noticed something new about the skilled-nursing facility, and it’s not just that they finally got rid of that blue tarp that’s been on the roof for a couple of years.

A few months ago, Sun Health Care of Albuquerque, N.M., gave up its lease on several nursing home facilities, including the 184-bed Chico facility. Now, the decision-makers are a group of investors from a Stockton-based corporation called Helios Healthcare.

Under Sun Health Care’s tenure, the facility had been plagued with citations from the state Department of Health Services (DHS). Sun Health Care had appealed three AA-level citations, the worst possible, after the state determined the elderly patients’ deaths were a direct result of the care they had received at the nursing home. In 2001, California Attorney General Bill Lockyer reached a settlement with Sun Health Care requiring it to step up patient care at all of its homes.

Helios Vice President Mike Wiederstein said in a telephone interview from Stockton that the settlement agreement was an issue only of Sun Health Care. “As a new operator we’re starting fresh in a sense,” he said.

“I feel confident that we will do well,” Wiederstein said. “Good business and good patient care go hand-in-hand.”

Who’s Helios?
The Helios players are no stranger to Chico Creek Care and Rehab: Some of the same principals were investors in a corporation called Crestwood, which had control of the facility until Sun Health Care leased it in 1997. A more-recent incarnation with owners in common, Crestwood Behavioral Health, is licensed by the state and has several county contracts to provide mental-health and other services. Helios was formed to oversee the new nursing home holdings; 12 facilities that Sun Health Care had operated shifted over to Helios in April.

Around the same time, Helios took over the Chico Care Center on Cohasset Lane, which had been owned by Beverly Enterprises, another nationwide chain. “We’re making lots of changes,” said Wiederstein, declining to elaborate.

All this is confusing to attorneys representing plaintiffs in civil cases against Sun Health Care. “No one knows what the heck is going on,” said attorney Joe Earley of Paradise, who fears Sun Health Care is trying to avoid liability.

The advocates say…
Pat McGinnis, executive director of the California Association of Nursing Home Reform (CANHR), said corporate nursing home chains overbought in the 1990s using Medicare money to invest. Sun Health Care only recently emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings and has “dumped” dozens of homes in the past few months, along with selling its pharmacy services, McGinnis related.

For their part, many nursing home operators feel persecuted by the government, advocacy groups and the media as they try to care for patients amid declining Medicare reimbursement rates. They feel it’s not fair that owners are considered guilty until proven innocent according to the state’s citation-and-fine process.

McGinnis said it’s hard to predict whether Helios will incur fewer problems than did Sun Health Care, but the fact that Helios is a private company located in California, rather than a huge, out-of-state chain, could be a good sign.

“We’re small, and we’re in Northern California,” agreed Wiederstein. “We’re trying to do the right thing.”