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Hillside deserves our support in facing challenges of change

McMinnville’s Hillside Retirement Community was buffeted by distressing news last week when the state barred its assisted living unit from accepting new residents, pending resolution of deficiencies.

On the plus side, assisted living is only one of five care levels offered at Hillside, which remains McMinnville’s premier provider. And its Brookdale Senior Living parent promised swift remedial action.

On the minus side, Brookdale is clearly in play on the market. To the extent any form of care has suffered at Hillside, it can probably be traced to a dizzying succession of new owners and operators since a loan default forced the facility into receivership in January 2002. The prospect of yet another disruption cannot be viewed with favor.

Hillside was founded as an independent, locally based nonprofit in 1979. It opened its doors in 1983 with 79 units on nine donated acres.

The facility faced problems in 1999, when it launched a $21.6 million expansion predicated on an ability to almost double resident count then standing at 250.

Unable to meet repayment obligations, Hillside went into receivership and relinquished management control to Life Care Services. The facility was later sold to Salem-based Sunwest, which also added five other local care centers.

Sunwest was subsequently driven under by federal regulators for engaging in fraudulent financial practices. The fallout left Hillside in the hands of Emeritus Senior Living, a national operator.

After suffering financial reverses, Emeritus was acquired by Brookdale, the nation’s largest elder care provider, in 2014. Through that and other acquisitions, Brookdale now operates more than 1,000 care centers in 46 states, encompassing more than 100,000 units managed by more than 80,000 employees.

The company, which boasts about $5.5 billion in annual revenue, is publicly traded. Institutional investors hold more than two-thirds of shares, though, thus maintain controlling interest.

They attempted to sell Brookdale to China’s Zhonghong Zhuoye Group, Ltd. last year, and to unnamed interests last month, according to regulatory filings. So yet another ownership and management change could be in possible for its 35 Oregon properties.

We remain hopeful, however, as Hillside promises to be a star in any provider’s firmament. It is, after all, the only Brookdale facility in Oregon offering all five care levels and one of only 129 nationally carrying the company’s top Continuing Care Retirement Community classification. And it continues to command a reservoir of goodwill in the community, thanks to deep local roots.

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