Dickens Co. Commissioner says court “stonewalled” into decision regarding nursing home

Posted on Wednesday 8 October 2008

The following article appears in the October 9 issue of The Texas Spur. While this has no significant bearing on the article, I want to let readers know that since the article was printed this morning, I was notified by Dot Cole from the Texas Department of Aging and Disabilities, whom I quote in the article, that she forgot to tell me in my interview with her that if the county had applied for a change of ownership and submitted an application for an operator’s license, the county would have been given permission to operate temporarily for 90 days. During that 90-day period, TDAD would have inspected the facility, and if it did not pass inspection, then the temporary license would have expired at the end of the 90-day period.

While this point may not have provided a permanent solution, it would have at least bought the county some time to find another operator, or at least provide more time for the nursing home’s resident’s families to make decisions for moving them to other facilities. In the article I wrote “…the county could have kept the nursing home operating, if not permanently then temporarily, until another buyer or operator could be found.”

By Cindi Taylor
Dickens County officials who voted against a motion September 24 to keep the White River Care Center have maintained that the county could not assume the financial obligations of Briarwood Nursing Centers, LLC nor acquire a license in time to save the White River Care Center. But as nursing home residents continued to move out, reports surfaced that Dickens County Judge Lesa Arnold knew from the beginning that the financial responsibilities did not have to be assumed by the county, and the license process may not have been as difficult as some were led to believe.

County officials defeated a motion, 3-2, by Commissioner Don Condron, Precinct 1, to keep the nursing home open during a special meeting held September 24. Commissioner Doc Edwards, Precinct 3, Ricky West, Precinct 2, and Judge Arnold opposed the motion, and Commissioner Sheldon Parsons, Precinct 4, voted in favor of the motion.

The Texas Spur has learned that with only $800 and a change of ownership form #3720N along with an application for an operator’s license filed with the Texas Department of Aging and Disabilities (TDAD) prior to October 16, the county could have kept the nursing home operating, if not permanently then temporarily, until another buyer or operator could be found.

Dot Cole, manager of facility licensing and certification for TDAD, told the newspaper Tuesday morning that the county could take over operations by submitting a change of ownership application, an $800 transfer fee, and an application for an operator’s license before the 30-day expiration of notice of closure by Briarwood (October 16) in order to keep the facility operating. She also told The Texas Spur that it is customary for the Medicare license to be transferred from owner to owner, though the new owner would be held responsible for paying back any overpayments submitted to the facility by Medicare under the previous owner. In the case of Briarwood, however, this was not likely, according to facility administrator Steve Moncrief, since Briarwood had not received payments from Medicare since December 2007. Moncrief said that the company hired by Briarwood to file Medicare billing had frozen any billing to Medicare on Briarwood’s behalf supposedly for Briarwood’s neglect in paying the company.

When The Texas Spur asked Judge Arnold about her knowledge of the licensing process and the Medicare licensing transfer, she offered no comment.
At the September 24 meeting Dickens County residents pleaded for more time. But Judge Arnold has said in previous interviews that attempts to find a buyer/operator proved unsuccessful. She told her constituents in last week’s issue of The Texas Spur (See Letters to the Editor on page 10 of the 10/2/08 issue.) that legal ramifications outlined by Attorney Herb Bristow, who counseled the commissioners court in closed session during the meeting, the home’s financial outlook, and data and public comment were what led her decision.

Condron said he felt the court was misled and misinformed.

“I think we were stonewalled,” Condron told The Texas Spur on Monday afternoon. “I am sure if we had the dedication to keep the nursing home open we could have.”
Condron was surprised to walk into the court’s September 24 meeting and find Bristow there. Condron said that he didn’t know that the county had consulted Bristow for legal advice.
“If we made a deal to hire Herb Bristow I didn’t know about it,” said Condron.
When asked who hired Bristow, she or the court, Judge Arnold said that Bristow had been hired by the county last year to advise the court during negotiations on the Dickens County Correctional Center.

Bristow was the one who outlined for attendees at the September 24 meeting the legal issues he saw the county needing to consider in their decision regarding the nursing home including the fact that it is unconstitutional for the county to take on debt from an individual, corporation, or association. Judge Arnold has maintained that this was key in the county’s decision regarding the nursing home. It was after Bristow’s address that the commissioners court voted on the motion for keeping the nursing home open.When asked if anyone ever told her the county would not have to take on Briarwood’s debt for a change of ownership, Judge Arnold gave no comment.

While it appears Arnold may not have divulged everything to the commissioners court or to her constituents, it no longer matters. The nursing home’s last two residents left on Tuesday and the doors to the facility were shut for good. Due to TDAD compliancy issues, the facility will never again serve as a residential health care facility because its doors were finally closed, and once that happens no waivers will be granted to the facility again.

The Texas Spur learned Tuesday morning county residents are prepared to begin a process to try and build a new nursing home facility. Details on the process to form a non-profit organization to begin pursuing grant funding were to be outlined during a public meeting which was set to be held at 1:00 p.m. Wednesday afternoon at the Spur Senior Citizens Center. Details in next week’s The Texas Spur.

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