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The Associated Press

GREAT FALLS (AP) — A consultant for a Big Sandy nursing home says the state overstepped its authority when it closed the home last month.

Prairie Vista Manor is appealing the state decision, and a hearing on whether the closure was proper is set to begin Aug. 20 in Helena.

The state Senior and Longterm Care Division ordered the closure in June, saying the home failed to meet federal Medicaid standards. The division said Prairie Vista failed three inspections between December and May.

Robert Rule, a Helena consultant hired by the home’s operator, Northwest Senior Care Association of Spokane, said if the state’s decision is overturned, Northwest could recoup Medicaid dollars it lost and residents could return to the facility.

Rule said if the company’s appeal is successful, he will gain a one-third share of the Big Sandy operation.

“If we lose this case, I probably won’t get paid a dime,” he said.

State officials have defended the closure as necessary, saying Northwest demonstrated an inability to properly run the nursing home.

The December inspection cited dozens of escapes, staff inattention, bed sores on residents, a staff member giving a resident’s pain medication to another staffer, and a former director of nurses who at times tried to hush up improper activities.

The agency also ordered Charles E. Sipler to stop serving as the home’s administrator, since he was not properly licensed. Sipler, who said he was the operations manager, has a misdemeanor conviction for skimming money from a Havre group home.

Rule, who once inspected buildings for the state Department of Public Health and Human Services, said Northwest was not aware of Sipler’s conviction when it hired him.

He said the state Department of Commerce’s Board of Nursing Home Administrators knew of the conviction for months, but failed to act in a timely manner to remove Sipler.

Meanwhile, a state investigation continues into money missing from Prairie Vista coffers. Rule earlier said about $63,000 appeared to be missing from general operating funds and from trust funds set up for nursing home residents.

Now, additional money “above and beyond” that amount also may be missing, he said.

No charges have been filed.

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