Saratoga Care Center faces foreclosure sale
By David Louis
SARATOGA — Nearly one year to the day after taking over as sole proprietors of Saratoga’s financially embattled nursing home — Deseret Health and Rehabilitation — Montana-based Health Management Services (HMS) President Joe Rude finds himself battling the same old bugbears that prompted his takeover of the facility in the first place.
It’s been a long, bumpy road for the now-Saratoga Care Center.
Following the decision last May by Gov. Matt Mead for the state to step in and operate the facility after weeks of mismanagement that included vendors not being paid, the cancelation of staff health insurance and paychecks being withheld, a buyer was found and Rude secured a lease on May 21, 2015, officially taking control June 1.
But then-owners of Deseret Health and Rehabilitation — brothers Garett and Skyler Robertson, and defacto owner John Robertson, their faither, who was in jail at the time on tax evasion charges — remained the facility’s landlord.
At that time, an option to buy was a possibility, Rude said, but now all bets are off.
“We have found that John Robertson defaulted on the note, so there will be a foreclosure sale on June 7. But, it looks like John Robertson has lined up a buyer to come in and buy the building back,” Rude said.
Before the state took control, the Robertsons made the Wyoming Department of Health aware of just how dire Deseret Health Group’s financial situation was. They intended to close Wyoming’s two facilities at Saratoga and Rock Springs — along with others in Nebraska, Kansas, Utah and Minnesota.
“We’re not sure what’s going on, but Robertson found a buyer — Michael Rick — and may have brokered a deal,” Rude said. “We’re not sure exactly what it is, but the party he has lined up has already offered to sell the facility to us for much more than the loan.”
But there’s something bothering Rude.
“If something smells bad, it’s usually bad,” he said. “We’re going to be at the sale and we’re going to attempt to buy it. We’re going to tell everyone there that something is foul about this maneuver and we’ve even been in conversation with the attorney general’s office who is interested in the outcome of the sale.”
According the Mead’s office, the Department of Health has an interest in the sale of any healthcare facility in the state, with the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office providing advice to the Department of Health on legal matters.
“Gov. Mead’s priority is the health and well-being of the residents at the nursing home. Certainly, he hopes to avoid a situation like last year that required the state to get involved,” said David Bush, Mead’s communications director.
In an attempt to get in front of the situation, Rude plans to meet with employees Wednesday to discuss the latest turn of events, with a public meeting scheduled later that evening at 6 p.m. in the facility’s dining area.
“Our position is that we want to continue to operate the facility,” Rude said. “In the last year we’ve made a fairly significant expenditure getting it up and running. We’ve got a good census currently at 26, but as high as 30. We’re doing physical therapy. Everything about it works and now they throw us a curve ball,” Rude said.
“The risk is — if its sold back to us at a premium — it may become so expensive that we can’t operate it or they may come in and tell us we’re out of here and they’re going to bring in their own operator,” Rude said. “We’re trying to be as open and transparent as possible, but we are dealing with people who still seem a little shady.”
If a sale is conducted and the status quo maintained, all is well, Rude said. But any increase in the monthly rent could be devastating.
“Rick has already offered a new lease agreement after the sale, but it’s a 30 percent increase in rent. Well, that can’t happen,” Rude said.
“(The Robertsons) have a sense there is value, but the only value in the building is the value we’ve brought,” he said. “We’ve cured all the issues with local vendors. We’ve cured all the issues with the Department of Health. We’ve got the facility fully staffed and we’ve provided quality care, and that’s were the value is.
“If we are not here, the property is worthless,” he said. “It’s just an empty building in a small town with a limited economy.”
Attempts to contact the Robertsons for comment were not returned.