Aperion Care, the nursing home chain in talks to buy Rock Island County's Hope Creek Care Center, was fined $366,800 by the Illinois Department of Public Health in 2019 across its 34 Illinois facilities, including a $50,000 fine at the Forest Park location after the body of a 64-year-old man with dementia was found in a river after he fled the facility.
The same Forest Park location was fined $50,000 a few months prior when a man recovering from surgery was found unconscious in a pool of blood. He died at a hospital less than an hour later.
The Springfield Aperion facility was fined $25,000 for the death of a patient caused by an insulin spike after staff failed to measure his blood sugar. His family consented to remove his ventilator after doctors were unable to revive him.
Aperion Care owns 34 facilities in Illinois and 13 in Indiana. Ten of its Indiana facilities were cited in 2019, including the Marion Aperion Care for the death of a diabetic woman whose insulin treatments were also botched.
By comparison, Hope Creek was cited and fined $2,200 one time in 2019, for an incident related to the fall of a patient who required stitches for a scalp laceration.
Aperion has offered $6 million to purchase Hope Creek, the county-owned nursing home at 4343 Kennedy Dr., East Moline. The county spent $24 million to build the facility in 2009 and still owes up to $11 million on the mortgage. Hope Creek was originally listed for $19 million, barely enough to cover its overall debt, including $7.5 million in short-term loans.
Ray Giannini, the broker for marketing firm Marcus and Millichap, said it was difficult to get offers close to $19 million. Three other offers were made for Hope Creek: Altitude Healthcare and Cascade Legacy Healthcare both offered $5 million, and Mosaic Healthcare offered $5.5 million.
The outcry against selling Hope Creek to Aperion has been swift and loud, with residents packing into county board meetings driven by concerns over the company's record. Most Aperion facilities in Illinois have one-of-five-star ratings by Medicare's nursing home rating system.
Frederick Frankel, general counsel for Aperion Care, said his company takes over facilities that are either in financial distress or at risk of losing their license.
"If you look at some of the recent acquisitions, those were in financial distress," Frankel said. "We work to turn those places around rather than have them close."
The East Moline Aperion facility was fined $75,000 in Jan. 2018 for the escape of a resident and the strangulation death of another. When asked about those two incidences, Frankel said measures have been put in place to prevent accidents like those from happening again.
"I will say in those two cases, we have taken measures to correct the issues at that time," he said. "It was an unfortunate accident that occurred at that facility. Since that time, things have been much better at that facility."
Frankel said Hope Creek staff, residents and their families should not be concerned about the transition to Aperion.
"I believe we have a very well-trained and excellent staff," he said. "The majority of Hope Creek staff will stay the same. We do not walk into a facility and clean house and start changing things. We maintain continuity of care for residents. Things will gradually change, but the goal is to have the majority of the staff stay."
In case there are issues, Frankel said there will be a hotline number for family members and residents to call with concerns.
"Every call has to be returned and investigated so we know what is going on to the best of our ability. The goal is to maintain what Hope Creek is doing well."
Board members react
Some board members admit to concern over Aperion's reputation and the level of care residents may receive if Aperion takes over Hope Creek.
"It's a sad situation," Don Johnston said. "I don't like being put in this position. It seems like we've had years of bad management at (Hope Creek). We probably weren't wise to build a facility of that size. I don't see at this point, an alternative for the county to hold onto it. It's losing an immense amount of money every month.
"Aperion is a major issue," Johnston said. "It doesn't make financial sense, but we could take the next offer. It does address the concerns of Aperion; maybe it would be worth it to lose another half-million dollars."
Angie Normoyle said the incidents with Aperion are "deeply concerning." She is hopeful the current AFSCME employees at Hope Creek will form a new union under the next owner and continue with "the first-class care they have been providing under county ownership. I know our employees will be a tremendous asset to a new owner and they will work tirelessly to ensure the safety and security of the residents."
"We find ourselves in a difficult position with regard to our fiduciary responsibility," Normoyle said. "Just like we are obligated to take low bids when we are buying goods and services, we have a responsibility to entertain the highest offers for our properties."
Rock Island County Board Chairman Richard Brunk said it's important to note Aperion is known for turning troubled nursing homes around.
"With 34 Aperion (facilities) across the state, that comes out to $11,000 (in fines) per home," Brunk said. "Three deaths ... so they are an extremely large operator; that needs to be taken into account — three deaths among 34 homes."
Brunk said a significant portion of the recent increase in property taxes is directly related to pending litigation issues at Hope Creek.
"Every nursing home has its issues, including our own," he said. "Aperion is licensed through the Illinois Department of Public Health and they are required to follow guidelines. We are confident the level of care at Hope Creek will continue at its current level."
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