Officials say nursing home closure final

By Ryn Gargulinski: QCS

Tucumcari’s Laurel Hills Nursing Home closed its doors on Dec. 31 for financial reasons, officials said, leaving behind critics and supporters.

“It was a rural area and was not really financially viable,” said Shirley Ghattas, Laurel’s public relations director. “We put a significant investment into the home when we purchased it in July of 2003.”

Deborah Busemeyer, a New Mexico Department of Health public information officer, said the company, operating under the umbrella of Albuquerque-based Laurel Healthcare, was losing money every month.

“They couldn’t make their census above 30,” Busemeyer said of the 53-bed facility, “and the company decided to close. We helped them through the transition, making sure the residents’ rights were protected.”

More than 50 Quay County residents signed a petition asking the company to reconsider and stay in Tucumcari, but the nursing home had plenty of critics as well.

Nora Romero, 81, has filed a lawsuit against Laurel Hills officials, alleging they are responsible for her developing a large bedsore that led to several major surgeries.

“Mrs. Romero’s family are good and brave people who believe that Mrs. Romero was mistreated at Laurel Hills and want the for-profit company which ran Laurel Hills, and its owners, held accountable,” said Romero’s attorney, Carl Bettinger.

The case is scheduled to go to court Aug. 14 in Albuquerque.
Jinnah Bates, who worked at Laurel Hills briefly in 2004, said neglect was evident from her perspective.

“They did not train us properly, if at all,” said Bates, who normally drives a tow truck and said she had no idea how to deal with frail, elderly patients.

Ghattas said such allegations are “false — absolutely not true.”

“We put a lot of resources into that community. It’s difficult to keep beds full in a rural community,” she said.

Ghattas said all employees undergo background checks, orientation and in-service training throughout the year.

Danel Mott, a certified nursing assistant and former Laurel Hills employee who quit in November, said patients received 30 days notice that the facility would close.

“Some patients were transferred to Clovis or Albuquerque or out of state,” Mott said.

Ghattas said all of the approximately 40 employees were offered relocation, but only about five accepted.

Administrator Valerie Agoos is now administrator at the Clovis Laurel Plains facility. She declined comment on the Tucumcari closing, referring questions to the parent company.

Fifty-four Quay County residents signed a petition, dated Dec. 9, stating the closing of Laurel Hills Nursing Home is of deep concern and asking the decision makers to reconsider.

“It is most devastating to have any kind of business in our community close (its) doors; but one which will (effect) so many lives is detrimental to us as individuals and to so many of our friends as well as to our future as a community. Jobs will be lost and patients will be misplaced,” the petition read.
Tucumcari’s Joe Rede was among those who signed.

“I have friends who were there, as patients and workers,” Rede said. “From the patients’ point of view, they were comfortable. They didn’t want to move and I was sympathetic.”

Ghattas said the building has been donated to a mental health resource center.