Nursing home's owner rages at village officials
'This is about politics,' he says of EP campaign to shut the facility down
Friday, April 29, 2005
By Stephanie Gehring
Staff writerAn owner of an embattled Evergreen Park nursing home said the state's crusade against his facility is being fueled by politics.
Morris I. Esformes, who has 51 percent ownership at Emerald Park Health Care Center in Evergreen Park, said village officials don't like the kind of residents Emerald Park treats.
"This is about politics," Esformes said. "This is not about the safety of Evergreen Park."
The 249-bed facility serves both mentally ill and geriatric patients.
Esformes said Mayor James Sexton, state Rep. James Brosnahan and state Sen. Ed Maloney have never been to Emerald Park to see the center first hand.
"Beside the fact that they're anti-mental health and anti-black, they're probably anti-Jew because I'm an ordained rabbi," Esformes said Thursday. "If it was up to the mayor, he would have lily-white geri-atrics knitting all day. The world isn't like that."
Esformes' remarks come on the same day his lawyers appeared in court to try to keep state officials from placing Emerald Park in receivership and eventually closing it down.
Sexton, Brosnahan and Maloney said Esformes' remarks were unfounded and their concerns are based on activities inside and outside the center.
"That's a beautiful thing for a rabbi to be saying," said Sexton, who planned to contact his attorney.
He added that it was easy for Esformes to blame everything on politics.
Brosnahan said Esformes is chiefly responsible for the center's operations.
"He has shown to be a person who doesn't care about the residents or the facility," Brosnahan said. "He has shown no regard for the safety of community residents, especially young children. He can point all the fingers he wants to ... but he just has to look in the mirror."
Maloney added that he was called to action because of documentation that outlines problems at the center.
"All I know is what I (have) seen in police reports over the last seven or eight years," he said. "It is well-documented by Evergreen Park police, Illinois State Police and the state department of public health that it is simply not a safe home for residents there. This latest incident regarding sex offenders puts the community in jeopardy, as well."
Esformes said he is working within state laws.
"A client can't be placed into a long-term care facility without the approval of the state of Illinois," he said.
He said patients are screened by agents and placed in his facility with the state's blessing.
He argues that a sex offender arrested at a park by Evergreen Park police posed no danger to residents.
"They were on a planned activity," Esformes said. "They were supervised. There was no chance of any client coming too close to a child."
The arrested sex offender was one of 10 found living at the facility, 9125 S. Pulaski Road, earlier this month. Two of those men were unregistered.
Despite the numerous violations from the state's health department Emerald Park has received since 1997, Esformes said all facilities have deficiencies.
"Sexton and Brosnahan have put so much heat on the state health department that any little thing we do is under scrutiny," Esformes said. "They don't want to hear our side of the story. There are deficiencies in every facility."
Sexton said the state's actions are related to the "shenanigans" at Emerald Park.
"I don't have two unregistered sex offenders at my house. I don't have eight registered sex offenders at my house," he said. "He (did). He would still have them if we hadn't brought it to the attention of the public. This is just laughable.
"All I'm doing, all Brosnahan and Maloney are doing, is representing their constituents. And I don't think any of those sex offenders, registered or unregistered, are our constituents."
Tammy Leonard, spokeswoman for the state health department, said while many facilities have deficiencies, Emerald Park's history is unique.
"We do have many facilities that don't have deficiencies," Leonard said. "Even those who do, don't have as many and at the severity that this facility has had. The history of this facility is unique, and that is the reason why we are taking these extraordinary measures. They have an egregious compliance history."
The state stepped up actions against Emerald Park because of its April 22 survey and past history.
"It had nothing to do with any outside pressure," Leonard said.
She said the state's main objective is residents' safety.
"If we see a situation where residents are imperiled, it is our job to fix it," Leonard said.
Lawyers for Emerald Park Health Care Center have until this afternoon to respond to the state health official's request that the Evergreen Park nursing home be placed in receivership and eventually closed.
Circuit Court Judge Patrick McGann gave lawyers until 4:30 p.m. today to respond to the state's request. Judge Julia Nowicki will hold the hearing at 11 a.m. Monday.
Melissa Merz, a spokeswoman for the attorney general's office, which filed the complaint Wednesday, said no one was surprised by the judge's decision.
"We are looking very forward to Monday and looking forward to presenting evidence that we believe will establish the gross mismanagement that put residents and the community at risk," Merz said. "We want to get into receivership and get it closed down."
Esformes' attorney Arnold Pagnucci, who said he had not seen the complaint until it was hand-delivered late Wednesday, told the judge the court had an obligation to hold the hearing within five days. But he asked for some time to prepare his client's defense.
"It's the only way the defendant is going to get any opportunity to be heard fairly," Pagnucci said.
Esformes was not in court for the hearing.
The judge asked Deborah Simpson and Yolanda Ricks from the attorney general's office if they objected to giving Pagnucci some time.
"We would like to have the hearing as soon as possible," Simpson said. "We have a room full of witnesses. The health department has taken drastic measures and put monitors in place 24 hours because of the way the place is being run."
Health department officials said placement of monitors in facilities is not typical.
Evergreen Park officials were outraged earlier this month when they learned about the 10 sex offenders living at Emerald Park.
The village board subsequently enacted an ordinance that prohibits sex offenders from living at any long-term care facilities in the village. On the same day the ordinance was approved, the nursing home administrator said Emerald Park had changed its policy and would no longer accept sex offenders.
McGann told Simpson and Ricks during Thursday's hearing that he had read the complaint and the sex offenders had been removed.
"It's not just the sex offenders," Simpson said. "It's the entire administration.
"This owner appears to view fines and violations as an ordinary course of business," Simpson said.
Emerald Park has been in trouble with state regulators in the past. A license revocation hearing was scheduled for July 18.
In October 2003, Emerald Park was fined $20,000 for not providing nursing services that matched residents' needs.
The state also disciplined the nursing home for not properly monitoring a resident who passed out and died after becoming intoxicated. In another case, a patient exchanged sex for cigarettes, became pregnant, and the pregnancy was undetected for eight months.
Esformes said he had planned to meet with state health department officials today, but the meeting was canceled Thursday afternoon.
He said he also wants to work with the village and state legislators.
Esformes, who has spent 35 years in the field of long-term care, said the bottom line is about patients' rights.
"I'm not going to lay down for these people. If I did something wrong, I'm going to admit it like a man. Don't be judge and jury. Don't play God. These people are entitled to a quality of life," he said.
Sexton also said he was willing to give the situation his all.
"We are committed to being there as many days as it takes and doing whatever we need to do to get our neighborhood back," he said. "We have been held hostage for 10 years."