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Former Fairlawn Rehab nursing home to be rebooted in July

Akron Beacon Journal - 2/14/2020

A building that used to house one of the nation's worst nursing homes is getting new life via its new owner.

North Olmsted-based Foundations Health Solutions is the new owner and operator of the building that formerly housed Fairlawn Rehab & Nursing Center at 3558 Ridgewood Road in Copley.

The former Fairlawn Rehab last June was 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.

Its former owner, Hillstone Health, voluntarily closed the nursing home in September, after announcing the closure 90 days prior in June, as required by the state.

Foundations bought the operations and building in August, said Kristin Idone, Foundations director of business development and strategic partnerships.

In state reports reviewed from earlier in the year, inspectors found problems at Fairlawn Rehab that were 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.

At the time of the closure announcement, there were 64 residents who needed to find new care.

Foundations Health, an 18-year-old for-profit company, owns and operates 54 nursing homes throughout Ohio, including several in the Akron area. They include The Merriman, Heritage of Hudson, Hickory Ridge Nursing and Rehab Center, and Canterbury Villa of Alliance Center. Ten more facilities are slated to be open this year, Idone said.

The company is spending about $2 million to renovate the inside of the nearly 57,000-square-foot building.

It will be renamed Timberland Ridge Skilled Nursing Home & Rehabilitation and is scheduled to open July 1.

Joe Altieri, Foundations vice president of governance, said the company has the qualifications to take the challenge of bringing the building and operations from the worst to the best nursing home.

"Unfortunately, this facility made national headlines for all the wrong reasons," he said. "We're welcoming this opportunity and challenge to turn this around and make this a great success story.

"We wanted to heavily reinvest back into the facility, which we found to be in a very dilapidated state. We had to renovate it, remodel and bring it up to today's standards, make it safe, make it comfortable and make it homelike," said Altieri, who is a member of the 16-member Summit County Nursing Homes and Facilities Task Force, which was formed after Fairlawn Rehab made the nation's worst list. The task force is examining the condition of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities in the county and advocating for change.

Foundations Health has the capability to turn the former facility around, said Sam McCoy, senior vice president of elder rights for Direction Home Akron Canton Area Agency on Aging & Disabilities.

But it will be a big challenge to make sure families know they are not Fairlawn Rehab and just happen to be in the same building, said McCoy, who is also on the Summit County task force and whose staff assisted Fairlawn Rehab residents who were displaced when it closed.

McCoy said a review of the most recent complaints filed for Foundations' four other Akron and Canton facilities show "nothing out of the ordinary. No neglect or abuse complaints."

"The four facilities I'm most familiar with, they have the capacity and are capable of running a quality organization here. My hair is not standing on end," said McCoy.

However, McCoy said he would recommend "investing in the hands-on staff, retention, recruitment and training of a superior care team at the facility."

"That's going to be the key in my mind regardless of the sign in the street, the new paint and the Steinway [piano] in the foyer," he said.

Altieri said staffing will increase according to the patients' needs as the operation ramps up after July 1, initially with a small group of residents.

The building, which had 150 beds as Fairlawn Rehab, will have 75 beds -- mostly private rooms with a few semi-private rooms. There will be 25 memory-care beds on a dedicated wing on the second floor, with the remainder of the beds in the facility divided between ventilator and dialysis patients, long-term care patients and dialysis patients, Idone said.

There will be around-the-clock nurses and respiratory therapists as well as an eight-to-10 chair dialysis center for residents and outpatients.

The medical staff includes a medical director from University Hospitals, a pulmonologist and psychiatrist from Summa Health and two independent nephrologists, Idone said.

The facility will specialize in ventilator care and respiratory illnesses, but will take all patients. It will accept Medicaid and Medicare patients, contract with certain insurance and will accept private pay.

Foundations has spent four months renovating the building, which Dan Russell, the company's construction manager, said was in "deplorable" condition.

"Most of the heating and cooling wasn't operational. Nurse call systems weren't working, sprinkling systems were neglected," he said.

Said Idone: "It looked like someone left for lunch and never came back. Our legal team came in and packed up 561 patient records just left on counters, dentures, glasses, prescriptions, wallets. It was awful."

Russell said he also filled 22 dumpsters.

Russell's crews have almost finished replacing baby-blue sheet vinyl flooring with laminate wood and fresh coats of paint.

New nurse station fronts will bring a more modern feel, he said. There will be all new dressers, nightstands, tables and chairs.

Word of mouth, the company's reputation and relationship with doctors and hospitals systems will help change the public perception of the former building, Altieri said.

Foundations has some challenges to overcome with the negative perception of the old building "on top of the general public idea and response to nursing home care and it just makes it that much more difficult," McCoy said.

"It can be done. It'll happen by performance. They've got to prove themselves. I hope that it's a success. Families deserve as much choice of where they live," McCoy said.

Beacon Journal consumer columnist and medical reporter Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or blinfisher@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ and see all her stories at www.beaconjournal.com/topics/linfisher.

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