Johnna LaCore found out Monday she would likely lose her nursing job in 60 days, and the approximately 60 people under her care at the Deseret Health and Rehab nursing home in Rock Springs would likely lose their homes.
“All of them will have to be housed elsewhere,” LaCore said. “Everybody is fighting over what little beds they have in the area … some are just hoping against all odds we are going to find a way to stay open.”
Facing financial woes, Deseret Health Group officially notified the Wyoming Department of Health on Monday that it would be shuttering the facility. The company operates senior health care facilities in Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska and Utah, in addition to its Rock Springs and Saratoga sites, according to its website.
The company has not given the state official notice it is closing the Saratoga nursing home. Skyler Robertson, chief operating officer, declined to comment.
Federal rules require the company notify the state 60 days before shutting a facility down. That clock is now ticking in Rock Springs.
“The attorney general has said if they don’t meet their obligations, they will pursue civil and criminal action,” said state Rep. Elaine Harvey, who became involved after the Saratoga facility administrator called her.
Department of Health spokeswoman Kim Deti said the state is in communication with Deseret Health Group and is creating a plan of action to address the situation. She said there is no formal plan for what to do if Deseret Health Group abandons the Rock Springs and Saratoga facilities. However, the department could help determine bed availability at other locations and move people to those facilities.
That offers LaCore, who has worked in Rock Springs for eight years, little comfort. She is leaving.
“There’s really nothing in this area that can support me,” LaCore said. “I have a mortgage and car payment. I’ll have to sell and move to Billings.”
The Rock Springs facility employs 90 people.
While staff members in Rock Springs work to find new housing for residents, the residents and employees in Saratoga face uncertainty.
Administrator Anita Mills learned of the closure rumor from a Carbon County commissioner, not her corporate office.
“I couldn’t get hold of anyone at the corporate office — no one was telling me anything. Then it was after 5 p.m. I felt I had been thrown under a bus, and I was here taking care of (residents) with no support,” Mills said. “I didn’t trust them, (and) I couldn’t get hold of them. Finally, I got hold of somebody that said everybody in corporate was gone and everything had folded.”
Mills started in February. She is the fifth administrator in the two years the company has owned the nursing home, she said.
Mills has plans in place for each of her 27 residents if they need to be relocated. Some will go home, others to Rawlins or Cheyenne. So far, Deseret Health Group has continued to cover food and medical supplies, but she worries whether the company will pay her 30 employees, as scheduled, on Friday. Several payroll checks already needed to be held until money was put into the account, and one worker was recently told the company’s health insurance wasn’t covering her, Mills said.
Deseret Health Group has given an outside organization until Friday to organize the purchase of the building.
Montana-based Health Management Services rescues ailing health care facilities and rehabilitates them. The company has 30 health care facilities in Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming — including Douglas.
“I just wish they had called a month ago. It would have given us some breathing room … he’s telling us he wants an answer by Friday or he will shut it down” said Joe Rude, president and CEO of Health Management Services. “This is the shortest notice we’ve ever seen.”
Health Management has staff in Saratoga assessing the building and the financial situation of Deseret Health Group.
One Deseret Health Group executive was sentenced to 366 days in prison after he pleaded guilty to filing a false tax return in 2003, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Utah.
Jon Robertson, founder of Deseret Health Group, served as president of Infinia, a Utah-based company that operated nursing homes. He 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. Robertson did not report this money as income to the IRS or to Infinia.
He was forced to pay $150,000 in restitution to the IRS as part of his sentence.
A potential nursing home operator must complete a license form to open or buy a facility in Wyoming. That license form asks whether the owner or operator has ever had a license to operate a health care facility denied, suspended, revoked or terminated.
Deti said facilities that serve patients with Medicare or Medicaid must also go through federal approvals.
Mills wonders if the process is enough.
“Why isn’t the state evaluating the people who buy these places before they buy somewhere in the state?” Mills asked. “These guys are shady characters. They have a history, and why aren’t they checking these people out before they are allowed to buy a building and take care of elders?”