The Minnesota Department of Health has seized control of a Minneapolis nursing home, saying numerous health and safety violations posed “an immediate and serious threat” to the well-being of its vulnerable residents.

In a highly unusual step, state regulators on Friday took over the direct management of Camden Care Center, an 87-bed nursing home that cares for elderly and mentally ill patients, after recent inspections turned up 80 violations, many of them serious. In March, regulators found that two residents required hospitalization after accessing drugs or alcohol while under the facility’s care.

The state also had concerns that Camden Care Center’s financial condition had deteriorated to such an extent that caregivers might quit their jobs due to nonpayment of wages, leaving vulnerable residents without care. The home’s director of nursing resigned in May, leaving only two nurses at a facility with 67 patients, according to a court petition.

This marks just the third time since 2009 that state regulators have taken control of a nursing home following reports of inadequate care.

“We took this step as a last resort because the nursing home was not keeping residents safe and was not meeting Minnesota’s basic standards of care,” said state Commissioner of Health Dr. Edward Ehlinger.

Steve LaForte, chief executive officer of Camden Care’s management company, Seattle-based Videll Healthcare, said the home had health and safety concerns when Videll took over management of the facility in 2012. But a reduction in nursing home reimbursement rates under Medicaid, which accounted for about 80 percent of the facility’s $4 million in annual revenue, “crippled the operations,” he said.

“There is a genuine sense of loss,” LaForte said. “I liked the facility. I liked the people that worked there. … Without the financial issues, we could have worked through the regulatory issues.”

The takeover occurred late Friday afternoon. Armed with a court order, staff with Volunteers of America, a nonprofit, arrived at Camden Care Center and ordered the acting administrator to leave. At a meeting that evening after dinner, residents of the home were told of the change.

The home has a mix of residents, including those with mental illnesses and chemical dependencies. About half of the home’s residents suffer from dementia.

Gail Lundquist, 82, who has lived at Camden Care Center for 25 years, said conditions at the nursing home had become “intolerable.” Earlier this year, the facility ran out of one of her medications for Parkinson’s disease for seven days, causing her hands and head to shake uncontrollably, she said.

Lundquist also said the call light near her bed that she pushes to report an emergency stopped working for several weeks, just after she returned from the hospital following a hip surgery. “Imagine that you’re not able to report when you’re in pain,” Lundquist said. “I had to yell, ‘Please, come and help me! Please come!’ ”

LaForte said he was not aware of any reports of problems with the facility’s call lights.

During an annual review in March, state inspectors cited the home for 47 violations of federal regulations, which is eight times the average number of violations found during such surveys, according to the Department of Health. The violations included a failure to intervene when a resident reported to the facility staff that she had been threatened with physical harm by another.

Two months later, state investigators did a follow-up inspection and found that the facility had failed to correct 26 of the 47 previous violations, and found five more violations. Two residents had to be hospitalized after accessing drugs or alcohol. One resident was so heavily intoxicated that the person required intubation, or the insertion of a tube into the body to remove fluids, state investigators found.

Inspectors also observed that residents were able to get out of the home and off the property without staff knowledge, among other violations.

State regulators were also concerned that Camden Care’s local management company, Videll Healthcare Camden, LLC, was “not a financially sound business.” The firm had stopped paying certain vendors and had discontinued payment of its employees’ health insurance premiums in March.

The state warned that, if the nursing home’s precarious financial condition caused employees to quit their jobs, “There would be no one to care for the residents of Camden Care Center,” according to the health commissioner’s court petition to place the home under receivership. “The lack of caregivers would present an immediate and serious threat to the residents’ health and safety.”

The nursing home’s previous owner, Robert Letich, raised some eyebrows in 2011 when he became the first nursing home owner in the nation to offer residents a free cruise to the Bahamas. About 24 of the home’s 86 residents went on the trip, which Letich billed as a way to make nursing home life “as normal as possible.”

The Health Department is negotiating with Videll Healthcare and the building owner, Sabra Health Care REIT Inc., based in Irvine, Calif., to determine whether the facility should be closed and its residents relocated or whether to continue to operate under new management.

In 2009 the Department of Health took control of two nursing homes, and both remain open but under new management.

“The initial feedback we are getting is that staff and residents are comforted and this is a well-received change,” said Scott Smith, a spokesman for the department.

State law permits regulators to place a nursing home under receivership if there is an immediate and serious threat to residents’ health or safety. In 2007, former Gov. Tim Pawlenty ordered that the Department of Health monitor operations of the Minneapolis Veterans Home when three men died after neglect or medication errors.

Regulators want to avoid a situation like the one that occurred late last year in Castro Valley, Calif., where authorities found 14 sick and elderly patients abandoned at a senior home after much of the nursing staff had left. The residents, including amputees and the bedridden, were left to fend for themselves for two days.


Staff researcher John Wareham contributed to this report.

Twitter: @chrisserres