State regulators refuse to discuss emergency evacuation of nursing home

By: - February 24, 2023 5:40 pm

State regulators are refusing to say anything about an emergency evacuation at Rock Rapids Care Centre in Lyon County. (Photo via Google Earth)

State regulators are refusing to say anything about an emergency evacuation at a western Iowa nursing home.

By conducting what it has characterized as an emergency evacuation of the Rock Rapids Care Centre’s 16 residents, the facility’s out-of-state owners were able to effectively shut down the home earlier this month in a way that avoided triggering the 60-day notice requirement for care facilities that are conducting a planned closure.

The evacuation of the Lyon County home has been attributed to a lack of staff at the care facility. Residents and family members were given about 48 hours’ notice of the evacuation.

In cases of a planned closure, the 60-day advance notice goes to the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals, which inspects and regulates Iowa’s care facilities, as well as the office of the Iowa Long-Term Care Ombudsman, which advocates for older Iowans.

The notice helps state officials ensure that facility owners respect the rights of residents, which include the right to move to a new facility of their own choosing. It also helps ensure that the quality of care is maintained during the transition.

Recently, another Iowa care facility closed with such short notice to residents and state officials that the home’s management suggested some residents be taken to homeless shelters. That proposal was rejected.

When asked about the Rock Rapids evacuation, the home’s administrator, Chris Rickard, said Friday, “I have no comment.”

Earlier this month, Rickard told the Northwest Iowa Review that the closure of the home is temporary, but that no date had been set for a re-opening. Resident of the home were moved to Pleasant Acres Care Center in the town of Hull. Like the Rock Rapids home, Pleasant Acres is owned and managed by Arboreta Healthcare of Florida. Officials there did not respond to phone calls on Friday.

Rickard told radio station KIWA the owner’s plans to evacuate the home were approved by the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals, the agency that inspects and oversees Iowa’s nursing homes.

Stefanie Bond, spokeswoman for DIA, said Friday the department has nothing to say about the Rock Rapids facility or any aspect of the emergency evacuation.

In November of last year, DIA inspectors substantiated 10 separate complaints against the home, although no citations were issued, and no fines were imposed by the agency. At that time, inspectors found the home had gone through four different administrators over the course of 10 months in 2022, had lost its long-distance service due to a failure to pay bills, and had been so short-staffed that the head of maintenance and other non-medical staff had been asked to work as nurses’ aides.

Iowa Long-Term Care Ombudsman Angela Van Pelt. (Photo by Clark Kauffman/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

In December, DIA inspectors revisited the home and reported finding zero quality-of-care violations — suggesting the staffing issue had been resolved. A few weeks later, the home was added to the federal government’s list of care facilities considered to be among the nation’s worst.

Iowa Long-Term Care Ombudsman Angela Van Pelt said Friday she’s not sure why an emergency evacuation was necessary, but added that DIA is typically better informed of such situations.

“I don’t recall getting much in the way of details on this,” she said Friday. “I don’t know if it’s a staffing issue or something like that. I don’t think it was any kind of public-health crisis, you know, or something with the building, but I honestly don’t know. I am about as puzzled as anybody else.”

Rock Rapids Care Centre is a 44-bed facility and has a one-star overall rating from the federal government. It was fined $216,869 in 2021. In addition, Medicare suspended payments to the home in January 2021 and August 2020.

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Clark Kauffman
Clark Kauffman

Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing.