Fairlawn Rehab & Nursing Center, which is on a federal list of the nation's worst nursing homes, is voluntarily closing.

Owners of the Copley nursing home notified the Ohio Department of Health on Monday that they will close the facility Sept. 10. The state requires a 90-day notice of closure.

Fairlawn Rehab was the subject of a front-page story in Sunday's Beacon Journal outlining the quality-of-care issues that landed it on the list.

The owner, Hillstone Healthcare, had notified the state last week that it intended to sell the facility to another company next month.Now the latest filing indicates Fairlawn Rehab instead will close.

Fairlawn Rehab — on Ridgewood Road near Cleveland-Massillon Road — is one of five Ohio nursing homes on a list of 88 federal “Special Focus Facilities” nationwide with the most serious history of quality of care issues.

State inspectors found problems big enough to threaten residents’ health — like untreated bedsores and unchecked or untreated diabetes — to slights and poor management that hurt resident dignity. The problems affected dozens of residents.

A team of state and local agency representatives has already been assembled to help Fairlawn Rehab's approximately 64 residents look for new care, either in their private homes or at another facility, said Sam McCoy, senior vice president of elder rights for Direction Home Akron Canton Area Agency on Aging & Disabilities. 

McCoy said the nursing home bed vacancy rate in Summit County is about 14 to 15%, so Fairlawn Rehab residents shouldn't have a problem finding a new facility.

“I have staff in the facility as we speak,” McCoy said. “Our primary interest at this point forth is to see that those residents who remain during this 90-day period get quality care and those who elect to choose another home will have their choices honored.”

In an email Tuesday afternoon, Paul Bergsten, who co-owns Hillstone and sister company Boulder Healthcare, said: “We had planned to move the operations to another operator. This did however fall through and the building’s landlord has decided to sell the building and the beds. This is not our option but we are complying with the landlord.”

Bergsten said “the residents at Fairlawn will be given choice as to their placement and we will handle this with the greatest of compassion for their wellbeing.”

Summit County property records show the nursing home building is owned by Ridgewood Acres Realty LLC.

Joseph Hertanu, who has been involved in numerous nursing homes across the country, is listed as the authorized representative for Ridgewood Acres Realty. Hertanu, who lives in New York, could not immediately be reached.

Ridgewood Acres Realty bought the nursing home for $8.69 million in August 2016 from Fairlawn Propco 3558 LLC, which purchased the same property four months earlier for much less: $5.378 million. It was not immediately clear why the property’s value increased by $3.5 million in such a brief time.

Hillstone bought the operations of Fairlawn Rehab in November 2017.

“We have operated the home for a year and a half and we do believe the care has improved in the last year at Fairlawn,” wrote owner Bergsten.

 

Longtime concerns

 

Ohio's Department of Aging has been concerned about Fairlawn Rehab since it was identified on the federal list, said Erin Pettegrew, deputy state long-term ombudsman who is heading local efforts to relocate the residents.

“Almost immediately after their operations transferred to the Hillstone group, we started seeing increased numbers of complaints there,” she said. “We have been following them closely. Obviously, the Ohio Department of Health had been citing them on concerns they were seeing. It all seems to have come to a head recently.”

McCoy,  whose local agency works with Pettegrew on complaints, said he was “disappointed the Hillstone and Boulder organization was not willing to invest the time and effort and energy to bring their facility up to standards.

“I say that because I know they are the owners and operators of many many other facilities in the state,” he said. “It's frustrating to me that for all the reasons to get into the business, they're not willing to invest in the improvement of care.”

McCoy last week said he was not in favor of nursing homes closing and would rather have the staff work to fix the problem for all residents.

Hillstone and Boulder, businesses that share leadership and an office address near Columbus, own 39 nursing homes statewide.

Three of the five Ohio facilities on the federal government’s worst list — including Fairlawn Rehab — are operated by Hillstone and Boulder. One of those three in the Columbus area also is closing.

The Columbus Dispatch analyzed federal information and found nearly 72% of the 39 Ohio nursing homes owned by Hillstone and Boulder scored only a one- or two-star rating on a five-star scale.

Hillstone also owns four other Ohio nursing homes — including Hudson Elms Nursing Home — that are on a second federal list of facilities that are candidates for the worst-five list.

Bergsten's partner, Matt Dapore told the Columbus Dispatch that his companies acquire struggling facilities but shouldn’t be accountable for problems that were created before they bought the properties.

Regular inspections are typically done once a year or any time a complaint is filed, but this facility has faced 26 inspection reports by state health inspectors since its new owners took over in 2017.

Federal regulators fined the the Fairlawn Rehab nursing home $142,973 during a six-month period in 2018 for not improving or correcting violations identified by state health inspectors.

Sunday's article about Fairlawn Rehab and the issues there prompted Summit County Council President Jeff Wilhite on Monday night to propose creating a task force to examine the condition of area nursing homes and advocate for change.

 

Reporter Amanda Garrett contributed to this report. Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or blinfisher@thebeaconjournal.com.