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Park Associates to Sell Waters Nursing Homes

January 23, 2006

By Matt Glynn, The Buffalo News, N.Y.

Jan. 23–One of Western New York’s largest nursing home chains plans to sell 11 facilities operating under The Waters name to a California-based company.

East Aurora-based Park Associates said it has signed a purchase agreement to sell the 11 facilities for an undisclosed amount. The prospective buyer is the family-owned ARBA Group, based in Los Angeles.

The deal still needs government regulators’ approval, said Ira Smedra, president of ARBA Group.

Park Associates confirmed it sold, at the end of 2005, 14 nursing home facilities it owned in Indiana. They were operated by Healthcare Centers of Indiana LLC, and were sold to an affiliate of ARBA Group.

Park Associates was formerly led by chief executive officer Neil M. Chur Sr. He died unexpectedly in January 2005 at age 60 while on vacation in Florida.

Smedra said the ARBA Group owns nursing homes elsewhere, but he declined to say where or how many, saying it was “not relevant to the New York state operation.”

“Our family has been in the business for almost 40 years,” he said.

Smedra said his company doesn’t plan any changes in the employee structure at The Waters nursing homes. “We plan to do improvements to the buildings, and we plan to operate them for many years,” he said.

He declined to discuss his own company’s operations. Reports in California newspapers describe Smedra as a developer whose other interests have included retail properties.

The 11 properties operating under The Waters name in New York state are in: Allegany, Dunkirk, East Aurora, Eden, Endicott, Gasport, Houghton, Orchard Park, Salamanca, Painted Post and Westfield. Combined, the facilities have more than 1,700 certified beds, according to state Department of Health data.

Park Associates’ headquarters in East Aurora is not part of the sale and its jobs will not be affected, a representative said.

Gary Grote, executive director of the Greater East Aurora Chamber of Commerce, said he was familiar with the planned sale and likes what he has heard from ARBA Group.

“It seems like it’s going to be a positive thing for both groups and the community,” he said. “ARBA really wants to do some good things in the area.”

Jeffrey Hammond, a spokesman for the state Health Department, said the agency has not yet received an application for the “certificate of need” that would be required for the facilities to change owners.

“It would be premature to speculate on a pending sale,” Hammond said.

Obtaining the certificate usually takes two to three months, if the application materials are complete when submitted, Hammond said.

The state Health Department has a process it follows for such planned ownership changes that includes public commentary and a review of the applicant’s plans. The agency uses the recommendation of the state Public Health Council to decide whether to grant the certificate.

Park Associates declined to discuss in detail its planned sale of the New York state properties, other than to confirm it was working on completing a deal.

Chur (pronounced coor) built up his company after starting in the industry as the half-owner of one nursing home, which his father founded in East Aurora. In 1998, he sold 88 nursing homes in Texas and Illinois for $234 million.

In 2003, Chur agreed to pay $3 million to settle a case with state officials involving allegations of under staffing, falsified records and inadequate patient care at two of his facilities. As part of the settlement, his company made no admission of liability or wrongdoing.

The Buffalo News in 2001 ran a series of investigative articles on nursing homes, and reported that Chur’s nursing homes were repeatedly cited by health inspectors for deficiencies in patient care, sanitation and patient safety.

At that time, Chur and other officials of his company contended that the problems were exaggerated in state inspection reports. Park Associates argued that it was making every effort to improve its care.

Separately, the East Aurora School District is negotiating with ARBA Group to buy back the former South Side School. The district intends to reopen the building, which has been owned by Park Associates. The planned nursing homes deal between Park Associates and ARBA Group has no effect on the ElderWood Senior Care nursing home chain run by Chur’s brother, Robert.

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