The Lancaster County Board plans to vote Aug. 27 on whether to continue negotiations with Hunter Management, an Illinois-based company that wants to buy Lancaster Manor, the county-owned nursing home.
Board chair Bernie Heier said Tuesday he has asked commissioners to review all information they have received so far about Hunter Management and be prepared for a lengthy discussion in executive session on that date. That's when all five commissioners should be present. The public cannot attend.
By state law, governing bodies can meet in executive session - behind closed doors -to discuss the sale of property and other sensitive matters.
After the executive session, Heier said, he will ask the board to vote on whether to "proceed or not to proceed" with talks involving Hunter Management, the only company to express interest in buying the nursing home at 1001 South St. when proposals were sought earlier this year.
With Lancaster Manor facing with a projected $3.5 million budget shortfall this fiscal year, the county board is considering selling it, despite opposition from employees, their union, people who have family members there and other citizens.
Hunter Management and its owner, the Rothner family, have come under fire for the quality of care they have given residents in their nursing homes.
The Save the Manor Coalition and Local 2468 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees say the Rothners have a bad track record of running nursing homes, including: low Medicare ratings, fines totaling $835,000 and criminal indictments against several family members.
Tuesday morning, the union's president, Kim Kaspar, leveled more allegations regarding the Rothner family, Hunter Management, and two men who share ownership with family members in eight nursing homes.
Citing an Internet and court records investigation by Lincoln attorney Gary Young, who represents the coalition and the union, Kaspar said the two men, Bryan Barrish and Michael Giannini, have been convicted of using nursing homes to defraud Medicare and Medicaid.
The two men allegedly were involved in a scheme in which nursing homes made false claims for incontinence supplies. In 2002, Barrish and Giannini were assessed civil penalties of roughly $2.2 million for Medicare fraud associated with the scheme. In 2000, both pleaded guilty to money laundering.
"This is really beyond anything we expected. We are very surprised that the county board would be willing to negotiate with them in light of this record," Kaspar said.
Anna Polyak, a corporate compliance attorney representing Extended Care Clinical LLC, which is affiliated with Hunter Management, wrote in an e-mail to the Journal Star: "Neither of these two individuals are either owners, officers or employees of Extended Care Clinical/Hunter Management. No members of the Rothner family or officers of Extended Care Clinical/Hunter Management have ever been indicted or otherwise investigated on any charges related to Medicare or Medicaid billing."
In a telephone interview, Young said the coalition and the employees union are not claiming that Rothner family members or Hunter Management were involved in the scheme that led to the Medicare settlement with Barrish and Giannini. "We're not claiming that at all," Young said.
The attorney said he does not know when Barrish and Giannini became partners with the Rothners. "It doesn't matter to us. They are now," Young said.
A Journal Star Internet search could not confirm or refute the statements by either Young or Polyak.
The newspaper's search did find at least three instances in which Eric Rothner, Barrish and/or Giannini were listed among the owners of Illinois nursing homes in 2007 or 2008:
* Greenwood Care, Evanston, Ill. (2008 Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services report) -Eric Rothner, 51.22 percent ownership; Barrish, 30.55 percent; Giannini, 3.45 percent.
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    * Bryn Mawr Care, Chicago (2007 report) - Eric Rothner, 46.55 percent ownership; Barrish, 13.5 percent; Giannini, 1.44 percent.
    * Wilson Care, Chicago (2008 report) - Eric Rothner, 20 percent; Barrish, 11.11 percent.
    During Tuesday's meeting, Commissioner Bob Workman challenged Kaspar on some of the earlier information put forth by the coalition and the union about the Medicare ratings of Rothner-owned nursing homes. Workman said 60 percent of the Rothner-owned homes have a two-star or better rating on Medicare's five-star quality care rating scale and Lancaster Manor's rating is also two stars.
    "Can't we say that Hunter Management has a higher quality rating than Lancaster Manor on average?" Workman asked Kaspar, who immediately disagreed with the statement.
    Workman then accused the union and the coalition of "distorting" information. "You have pulled out what you want," he told Kaspar.
    Workman later told Melvin Moore, past president of the union, to "sit down" and not respond to his remarks after he made them.
    In an interview, Heier said he was not aware of the allegations made by Kaspar and the coalition. "If it's substantiated, it's not good information for Hunter Management," he said.
    Heier said the county board has been conducting its own investigation of Hunter Management and the Rothner family; however, that information will not be made public until the investigation is complete.
    "We're looking at everything and I don't like what I heard this morning - if it's true," Heier said.
    In a related matter, Mark Vasina of Lincoln submitted a public records request to the county board seeking budget information for Lancaster Manor for fiscal year 2010. The request asked for all work papers, memos or correspondence, including e-mails. The request was signed by Vasina and four University of Nebraska-Lincoln economics and accounting professors: F. Gregory Hayden, Kung Chen, Hendrik van den Berg and Linda Ruchala.
    Commissioner Larry Hudkins asked Vasina about his motives for filing the request.
    Vasina, who is the treasurer for Nebraskans For Peace, said he has been following the manor controversy and has been "puzzled" by the financial explanations, so he decided to examine them himself.
    "It bothers me when powerful people are acting in such a way to disregard public concerns, and, particularly, when less-powerful people are hurt by that," Vasina said.
    Heier said he would forward Vasina's request to the county attorney and the county budget director.
    Meanwhile, State Auditor Mike Foley's office is conducting its own audit of manor financial records.
    Reach Algis J. Laukaitis at 402-473-7243 or