The Wyoming Department of Health has assumed control of the nursing homes in Rock Springs and Saratoga after Deseret Health Group stopped providing money for medical supplies and food to the facilities, according to Director Tom Forslund.

"Licenses have been suspended for the facilities. The state will be moving forward with relocating residents ... around the state," Forslund said during a Friday afternoon conference call. "This is a private company. We don't wish to interfere, but (Deseret) ... failed in its corporate responsibility and governance. The state is stepping in temporarily."

The state will hold Utah-based Deseret responsible for expenses while retaining any revenues to help pay the bills, he added.

A state-appointed manager will be overseeing operations in each facility starting today. Forslund said the two managers are there to assist existing employees, not replace them. 

The state will also move forward with relocating residents.

"We will make sure they have a choice, they and their families will have a choice in where they wish to be located," Forslund said.

The state's intervention hasn't altered Anita Mills' timetable. The Saratoga administrator said seven residents have already left, and she still plans to have most of her remaining 20 residents moved out by Tuesday.

In Rock Springs, 90 employees cared for about 58 residents. Nine have left, the facility administrator said. The majority will have to move over 100 miles away.

"What (the state's intervention is) going to do is assure the staff gets paid so that they stay. We'll have money for food, for supplies," said Mills. "And it means no more of the residents' money will go to (Deseret). That's a big thing."

In Saratoga, 30 employees received paychecks as scheduled Friday, but they were told they are no good, Mills said.

"We are monitoring that. We will take appropriate action if those checks are not valid," Forslund said. "Going forward, there is no question they will be paid."

Deseret notified the state Monday it was closing the Rock Springs facility. It told the state late Wednesday Saratoga would be closing.

As part of that process, Deseret was supposed to provide a plan describing things like how it would maintain operations for 60 days, how it would move residents to other facilities and how it would protect patients' rights.

"There is a whole host of things this plan needs to include, and it was simply too generic at this point in time," Forslund said.

Deseret's corporate office voicemail box is full. A voicemail left with Skyler Robertson, Deseret’s chief operating officer, requesting comment was not returned. He previously told the Casper Star-Tribune to speak with his lawyers, but ended the call before offering any contact information.

Deseret founder Jon Robertson served 366 days in prison and owed the IRS $150,000 in restitution after pleading guilty to filing a false tax return in 2003, according to the United States Attorney's Office - District of Utah. He was president of Infinia, another Utah-based nursing home operator, at the time.

Robertson transferred large sums of Infinia money through unofficial, non-salary payments to personal bank accounts and other accounts in his control, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Nursing home operators must complete a license form as part of their application. The form asks whether the operator has had a license to operate a health care facility denied, suspended, revoked or terminated. Department of Health spokeswoman Kim Deti said Deseret answered no to the question.

Deti said facilities that serve patients with Medicare or Medicaid must also go through federal approvals.

When asked if the state's licensing procedures needed to be reviewed, Forslund said there needed to be a balance between being open to businesses and creating a high threshold for those companies.

"How aggressive do you want your state government to be in terms of allowing or disallowing people from conducting business within Wyoming?" Forslund asked. "It's a situation where you can argue it both ways."

Forslund said there are companies interested in purchasing the facilities, but he added the state would not be involved in any sale or transfer. The state will, however, expedite the licensing process.

Follow reporter Tom Dixon on Twitter @DixonTrib.

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