Nursing home in state hands

By Darrell Todd Maurina: CNJ staff writer

State officials took control of Buena Vista Nursing Home Thursday afternoon after filing a special court petition to put the facility into receivership, a state cabinet secretary said Thursday evening.

While three nursing homes are under investigation, so far Buena Vista is the only one state officials have gone to court to control, according to Michelle Lujan Grisham, secretary of the Aging and Long-Term Services Department.

The other nursing homes included in the investigation were in Ruidoso and Albuquerque.

Dr. Ali Ghaffari, who owns Buena Vista along with his wife Linda, could not be reached for comment Thursday night at either his home or office. Staff members reached by telephone at Buena Vista said they were not sure when he would be returning to the office.

Grisham, who is currently attending a conference in Chicago, said she didn’t have access to a copy of the decision filed in 9th Judicial District Court. However, Grisham said she believes Buena Vista’s owners will get their day in court on May 28 to prove they are capable of running the nursing home safely.

Grisham said the procedure used by the Department of Health in taking control of Buena Vista without informing its owner is unusual.

“That’s how the system works — if we go in and present enough evidence of urgent problems, the court will give control of the facility to the state by putting it under receivership,” Grisham said. “The Department of Health has been really swift and that is new and I commend them.”

Grisham said the petition for receivership focuses on two issues: Adequacy of care and adequacy of finances.

“The petition basically identifies that there is substandard care and financial management issues; there are issues about their Medicaid provider status,” Grisham said. “Collectively those kind of things put the residents at serious risk, so it is our responsibility to protect and safeguard those residents.”

As of Thursday afternoon, Buena Vista is under control of Peak Medical Services, an agency under contract with the state to manage nursing homes on an interim basis. Grisham said it’s likely but not certain the new managers will remove Ghaffari as medical director and his wife as administrator.

“It is possible that managers or owners will stay in the system although they are not allowed to make day-to-day decisions anymore,” Grisham said. “The reason you have a receiver is to take those individuals out of the day-to-day decision-making. It is likely in this situation that they will not be in that position.”

Gov. Bill Richardson has ordered a crack down on nursing homes that are not providing adequate care in the state.

“Our responsibility is to monitor and survey these facilities to ensure that residents receive quality care and are in a safe environment,” said Secretary of Health Patricia Montoya.

The governor ordered a broader examination of the nursing home industry. State tax auditors, for example, have been directed to start reviewing finances of nursing homes across New Mexico.

There are 81 nursing homes in the state and Richardson estimated they receive about $400 million in state, federal and private payments.

Grisham said her department continues to investigate other nursing homes as well.

“It’s not that what’s occurring at Buena Vista is so unique or different; we know there are problems all through the state,” Grisham said. “There has not been a single week since 1987 that I have not had a horrific complaint about care at a facility of some kind. What does that tell you? Something is wrong and I want it fixed.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.