Critics say Texas-based nursing home operator using bankruptcy to hide from dozens of lawsuits

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Preferred Care of Plano filed for bankruptcy in November claiming in court that more than 160 lawsuits led to its financial demise.

But critics — including lawyers for families who allege their loved ones were mistreated in facilities in Texas, Kentucky or New Mexico — say the company is trying to avoid accountability. 

A Dallas Morning News investigation published last week strung together state and federal inspection reports and dozens of lawsuits to illustrate the nursing home operator's track record. Allegations of neglect, injury and death included the beating death of two residents at the hands of a mentally ill roommate, a resident found dead with his wheelchair on top of his body and a state attorney general's allegation that residents were left for hours in soiled clothes and sheets.

The company defended its operations.

“We stand by the quality of care that we provide and our dedicated employees that provide this care. The health, safety, and welfare of our residents will always be our primary concern,” Robert Riek, a lawyer for Preferred Care, told The News.

A call made to Riek's office by McKnight's was not returned by the production deadline.

In bankruptcy court, Preferred Care reported its legal fees jumped from $2 million in 2014 to $10 million in 2016. Preferred Care's attorneys claimed the fees limit the company's ability to spend  money on patient care, a sentiment they reiterated to The News. 

“It is in the best interest of citizens to have tort reform,” bankruptcy lawyer Stephen McCartin said. “That clearly reduces contingency-fee, ambulance-chasing lawsuits. It absolutely does have an effect.”

But the newspaper reported an unusually large share of Preferred Care facilities have poor ratings, based on federal inspection data. About a third of Preferred Care homes in Texas received 1 star overall in the Five-Star Quality Rating System, compared to a quarter of all nursing homes statewide.

“If their quality of care were higher, they wouldn't be getting sued,” said Dallas lawyer Gabriel Canto, who represents the family of a Preferred Care resident who died after falling twice in the same day.

The company's Chapter 11 filing leaves dozens of cases pending cases while the financial wrangling continues.

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