Court closes 'squalid' nursing home operated by Hixson-based New Beginnings

New Beginnings Care's headquarters on Hixson Pike.
New Beginnings Care's headquarters on Hixson Pike.

About New Beginnings LLC

› Headquarters: Hixson › Founders: Debbie Jones, CEO, and Trent Tolbert, Chief Acquisitions Officer › Facilities: It operates 15 nursing homes in five states › Annual payroll: More than $48 million › Staff: 1,300 employees New Beginnings Care's remaining nursing homes: › Mt. Pleasant Health Care and Rehab, Mt. Pleasant, Tenn. › Abbeville, Ga., Health and Rehab › Eastman, Ga., Health and Rehab › Midway, Ga., Woodlands Health Care › Oceanside, Tybee Island, Ga. › Savannah Beach Nursing and Rehab, Tybee Island, Ga. › Pinewood Nursing Center, Whigham, Ga. › Edwards Redeemer, Oklahoma City, Okla. Source: New Beginnings officials, filings in U.S. Bankrupty Court in Chattanooga

photo Trent Tolbert, cofounder and chief acquisitions officer of New Beginnings Care, walks back to the U. S. Bankruptcy Court on Monday, Feb. 8, 2016, in Chattanooga, Tenn., during a recess in proceedings involving his company. On Monday, the court refused to stop Medicare and Medicaid from cutting reimbursements to one of the nursing homes operated by New Beginnings Care.

Nursing home patients will be removed from a Georgia facility today after a federal judge rejected a company request to halt the government's cutoff of Medicare and Medicaid payments because of patient neglect.

New Beginnings, a Hixson company that has already been cited or threatened with the loss of government payments for patients at a handful of other nursing homes, lost its bid Monday to halt a government finding that the company mistreated Medicare and Medicaid patients at a 131-bed nursing home in Jeffersonville, Ga., southeast of Macon.

On Jan. 13, state inspectors reported "squalid conditions" there, according to a filing by U.S. Attorney Kent Anderson in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Chattanooga. The regulators found five out of nine toilets had malfunctioned for at least two weeks in a locked unit for 29 patients with Alzheimer's and dementia.

"Take me out, take me out, it smells bad in here!" said a resident whose room was flooded by an overflowing toilet, the filing says. Footprints showed that staff tracked the sewage out into the hallway, potentially contaminating the rest of the nursing home, the filing says.

New Beginnings officials and their Chattanooga-based attorney David Fulton tried Monday to convince U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Nicholas Whittenberg to issue a temporary injunction to keep the Medicare and Medicaid payments flowing at their Jeffersonville Health and Rehab facility.

New Beginnings argued most of the toilets cited by regulators in Jeffersonville were only flushing slowly, and that it spent $22,000 for new pipes to fix the problem. Plumbers' muddy boots - not sewage - was to blame for the footprints, said a brief that Fulton filed Monday.

"We fixed the problem, but the state never verified that," Fulton said. "Because of the extensive nature of it it couldn't be done overnight."

He argued the closure of the nursing home in Jeffersonville would devastate the economy in the city, which has about 1,000 residents, and disrupt the lives of the facility's patients.

But at the end of a three-and-a-half-long hearing, Whittenberg denied the temporary injunction. He said that bankruptcy court didn't have the authority to "second-guess" the decisions of regulators who decided that the nursing home's conditions put its residents' health and safety in immediate jeopardy.

Most recent black eye

The ruling is the most recent black eye for New Beginnings, which was founded in 2011 by two former executives at other Chattanooga-area nursing home businesses: Trent Tolbert, the former president of Grace Healthcare and a vice president at Lifecare Centers of America and Debbie Jones, who also worked in executive positions at Grace and Lifecare.

New Beginnings operates, but doesn't own, nursing homes in low-income rural areas, Tolbert said Monday. The company has employed about 1,300 people at 13 nursing home, he said, and has a weekly payroll of nearly $1 million.

"We're a small company trying to do the right thing," Tolbert said of the company, which is run out of an office on Hixson Pike across from a Bojangles fast-food restaurant.

New Beginnings operated as many as 15 nursing homes, but has seen that whittled down to eight.

The first New Beginnings nursing home to have effectively been shut down by regulators was in Limestone, Tenn., near Johnson City. There, 40 of 43 Medicare and Medicaid patients were moved out of the John M. Reed Nursing Home after a state survey in December, 2015 found numerous deficiencies. Inspectors found that patients didn't get timely incontinence care, suffered avoidable pressure ulcers and didn't get antibiotics as ordered by the physician.

On Jan. 20, about 30 residents were moved out with only 12 hours' notice at Rockmart Nursing and Rehab in Rockmart, Ga., about an hour west of Atlanta, according to news reports. Georgia and federal regulators also shut down the Goodwill Health and Rehab center in Macon, Ga.

In late January, regulators shut down Campus Health and Rehab, a nursing home that New Beginnings ran in Liberty, Ohio, near Youngstown, citing signs of neglect, including patients whose adult diapers were saturated with urine and feces. In one instance, a resident died of malnutrition, according to an investigative report by First News WKBN in Youngstown.

New Beginnings plans to stop operating its other nursing home in Warren, Ohio, Tolbert said Monday. It also gave up operations of the Lonoke Red Oak Nursing and Rehabiltation in Lonoke, Ark.

Even more New Beginnings nursing homes could close based on Monday's ruling in bankruptcy court, said an attorney for the landlord that owns the Jeffersonville facility. New Beginnings runs the Jeffersonville nursing home under a "master lease" that also involves two other Tybee Island, Ga., nursing homes run by New Beginnings: Oceanside and Savannah Beach Nursing and Rehab.

"[It could] effectively close down the three facilities," said attorney Ted Stapleton, who participated by phone. Stapleton also said Georgia regulators also might close down New Beginnings nursing homes in Abbeville, GA., and Whigham, Ga.

Tolbert said his nursing home business got into trouble because it was owed $1 million by Medicare for the Limeston facility, and Medicaid payments weren't being made in Ohio and Georgia - while the state of Georgia was docking New Beginnings about $120,000 weekly for unpaid bed taxes.

"We're owed more than we owe," Tolbert said.

Debts that New Beginnings owes to its creditors, bankruptcy court filings show, including $240,000 in unpaid utility bills at all of its facilities. Another listed creditor is the car dealer for the Porsches that Jones and Tolbert each drove. Tolbert said Monday that New Beginnings has sold one Porsche and hopes to sell the other.

Four months ago, Jones was in a Georgia bankruptcy court case offering to save part of the bankrupt Hutcheson Medical Center. Jones confidently said then that her company could pay $7.1 million to buy and revive the 109-bed Parkside at Hutcheson Nursing Home in Fort Oglethorpe.

At the time, Jones identified her company in court documents not as New Beginnings, but as Hutcheson Healthcare & Rehab, LLC, created the same day that the purchase agreement was filed with the court.

Maybrook Healthcare LLC, from New York, later offered to buy the Parkside nursing home for $7.2 million.

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at or or or 423-757-6651.