Conway Dam continues flowing backward as lake levels rise

Water levels on Lake Conway continue to rise as homeowners who thought their houses were safe are scrambling to put up more barriers. For the first time ever, the dam on Lake Conway is flowing backward, pushing water from the Arkansas River back into the lake and causing the floods to rise.

Water levels on Lake Conway have risen several inches over the past day and the floods now threaten a growing number of homes.

RELATED: Animal habitat exhibits under eight feet of water due to flooding of Lake Saracen

“Nothing I can do about it but naturally I am worried about it,” said Kenny Jenkins as he worked to put sandbags and move his furniture off the floor. “When the rise in the water started it was 37 and a half inches below the concrete. Now it’s approximately four inches above the concrete.”

For Jenkins, the lakefront Conway home was supposed to be a dream house. A lakefront view, a dock stretching out into the water, and a place to relax without any worries.

All he can do now is prepare his home for the water, helpless to the rising tides.

“Watch and wait,” said Jenkins. “That’s all.”

Inside his home, his furniture sits perched above the floor. One final layer of protection in case it gets as bad as he fears.

“I have most of my furniture safe on concrete cinderblocks,” said Jenkins. “It’s going to be dipping into our savings because we don’t have insurance.”

City of Conway officials said the Arkansas River has crested, but it’s continuing to push water into Lake Conway, which is why we see the water levels here continue to rise.

Officials say all the levees in Faulkner County are holding up well after they repaired one part that was beginning to erode.

Source Article

Authorities investigate homicide in Conway

CONWAY, AR (KAIT/KATV) – Officials in central Arkansas are wanting to know what happened to a man who was shot and dropped off at a hospital where he later died.

According to a report from Little Rock television station KATV, Conway police are investigating the homicide. Investigators spent Thursday morning at the Plaza Pointe Apartments and believe the shooting happened around 4:30 a.m. Dec. 27.

Source Article

Flood threat rises around Lake Conway

Water roars past the spillway at Lake Conway in Faulkner County on Monday. Authorities issued a flood warning for neighborhoods around the lake. – Photo by

Debra Hale-Shelton

The National Weather Service issued a flood warning Monday for Lake Conway as water from Palarm Creek overflowed into it, threatening low-lying areas along the lake’s 52-mile shoreline.

Areas that have previously flooded near the 6,700-acre lake are those most in danger now.

"If you’ve ever flooded before, you’re about to flood again," Faulkner County attorney and spokesman David Hogue said.

Faulkner County is among a number of counties along the Arkansas River that are dealing with the effects of record-high river levels caused by water released last week from Oklahoma.

Lake Conway runs from the Mayflower area to about 3 miles south of Conway, though those on the Mayflower side of the lake seemed to be in the most danger of water reaching their homes.

Hogue said sandbags are available throughout the town, adding he was confident that residents would take precautions.

"These are people who have lived through the oil spill, two floods" and tornadoes, all in recent years, Hogue said.

In 2014, a tornado ravaged the Mayflower and Vilonia areas. About a year earlier, a crude-oil pipeline ruptured in Mayflower’s Northwoods subdivision, forcing residents to evacuate the area. Many never moved back.

Conway Mayor Bart Castleberry said authorities don’t forecast any effects from lake flooding on areas within city limits. "We’re going to continue to monitor that," he said.

Other areas in the county that already have flooded along Cadron Creek and Lollie Bottoms will see the high water linger for a while, Hogue said.

Keith Stephens, a spokesman for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, which built Lake Conway, said he expects it will exceed the flood stage of 266 feet mean sea level by Wednesday. The lake is expected to keep rising after that.

Palarm Creek likely will continue to rise for a few days, "pushing more and more water into Lake Conway," the commission said in a news release. "This is a long-lived event, so the threat of flooding around Lake Conway could extend beyond this week," the news release said.

Stephens said the lake is rising about a foot every 30 hours. The lake was close to 264.4 feet mean sea level Monday; that’s 1.4 feet above normal.

Another concern is that 2 to 4 inches of rain could fall in central Arkansas during the latter half of the week.

Hogue and state Rep. Spencer Hawks, R-Conway, encouraged anyone needing assistance to contact the Red Cross, which has set up a shelter at the Don Owen Sports Complex on Lower Ridge Road in Conway.

According to the Faulkner County Office of Emergency Management’s website, the Don Owen facility also has 46 recreational vehicle spots available for people who may need to park there during the flood. Electricity and water will be supplied at no cost, though people must first call (501) 327-2532 or email jared.permenter@cityofconway.org or arianne.bradley@cityofconway.org.

Hawks said the Faulkner County Animal Response Team has set up operations behind that facility and will provide care for animals displaced by the flood. That team also can take care of pets for anyone staying at the Don Owen shelter.

At David and Shirley Garrett’s home near Lake Conway, floodwaters were already approaching the home where they’ve lived about 15 years. Since late last week, they’ve been stacking furniture on top of furniture, sandbagging and even stacking a bed and other furnishings on top of concrete blocks.

In the living room, 72-year-old David Garrett had placed four 4-by-6 lumber pods beneath his piano to protect it from water. His organ is too heavy, but he’s planning to dismantle part of it.

Garrett said he and his wife plan to move some of their possessions, such as clothing, to their neighbor’s home, which sits on higher ground.

In the past, floodwaters have gotten into the couple’s garage but not into their house, which sits about three steps higher, he said. Garrett has done his math, checked the calendar and listened to the warnings. If the water rises as much as projected, he thinks he has until Thursday before it gets into the house.

Despite it all, Garrett said he’s optimistic. Bending over slightly, he began playing "Amazing Grace" on his piano.

"I’m not going to play ‘Let it rain, let it rain,’" he said with a chuckle.

Gallery: Pulaski County flooding continues

Rain chances will increase over the next few days, as moisture moves back into the region and several systems move through, said Jim Reynold, meteorologist in charge with the National Weather Service office in Little Rock.

"There is a 50 percent chance of thunderstorms on Wednesday and a 70 percent chance for thunderstorms on Thursday and Friday," Reynold said. "It can bring strong winds and hail with it."

The water isn’t expected to have a major effect on the Arkansas River, Reynold said.

"Mostly what is feeding into the river is the rain from Oklahoma," Reynold said. "Also, by the time the storm hits, a lot of the river would have crested and the levels are probably not going to go back up."

Jimmy Hart, county judge of Conway County, said U.S. 64 on the east side of Menifee near the Conway County-Faulkner County line has been closed because of high water. No homes were endangered there, though, since the area is mainly made up of fields, he said.

Hart said Interstate 40 in that area was not a problem and should remain that way "if we don’t get 2 or 3 inches up in Cadron Creek."

The good news, he said, is that workers had repaired a malfunctioning drainage pipe in the Arkansas River near Oppelo after working roughly 20 hours a day since Thursday.

Recovery operations have begun farther upriver in Sebastian and Yell counties, according to Melody Daniel, a spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management.

The National Weather Service said water levels are beginning to drop in western Arkansas after cresting in Van Buren, Ozark and Dardanelle.

"We are doing damage assessment at the state level with [Federal Emergency Management Agency] assistance," Daniel said. "We can’t do a full damage assessment until all the water recedes."

The Arkansas River crested Sunday in Dardanelle at 45.3 feet, one of several record levels along the river’s path. Flooding that threatened to inundate parts of the city slowed, easing the immediate risk for many in the Yell County town of about 4,700.

"It’s the first time I have been able to mentally relax a little bit," Dardanelle Mayor Jimmy Witt said Monday.

Approximately 20 homes in the county were surrounded by water after a levee broke around 1 a.m. Friday. State highways and county roads have been closed, and some roadways were destroyed by running water.

"It was a constant fight on multiple fronts," Witt said. "We had the river taking over the park and threatening downtown. Then we had the levee breaking, threatening the other side of the city."

County Judge Mark Thone said the past few days have been a challenge.

"The whole crew has had very little sleep, but they are doing everything they can to help," Thone said.

Flooding has hampered tourism in the area that is home to Mount Nebo, Mount Magazine and several lakes.

"We have lost a lot of tourism dollars, and it has disrupted a lot of places," Witt said. "The river is going to stay high for a little while, as well. So fishing-wise this has been great, but for river and lake activities, not so much."

County Judge David Hudson said 545 homes in Sebastian County have been affected by flooding, including 500 in Fort Smith.

Officials have created a donation and distribution center out of the old Sears building in the city.

"A lot of people have come to help and provide support, and our faith-based organizations have risen up and we thank them," Fort Smith Mayor George McGill said Monday at a news conference. "The River Valley is strong."

Water is receding within the city, but City Manager Carl Geffken asked residents to be patient and let authorities assess the damage. He said city officials will meet Wednesday to discuss the debris collection.

Oklahoma Gas and Electric Corp. reported that 415 customers were affected by power failures in Fort Smith.

"As the river descends, it will expose a lot of our equipment," said Rob Ratley, community affairs manager for the company. "It will let us re-energize some areas, but it will be lengthy process."

Jimmie Deer, the building official for the city of Fort Smith, suggested that residents hire licensed contractors to inspect flood-damaged homes.

"Water and electricity don’t mix," Deer said. "They can verify the safety aspect."

Desha County is already dealing with flooding, even though the Arkansas River isn’t expected to crest until Friday in southeast Arkansas.

"There’s some houses flooded," said Rick Terry of the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management. "Of the 65 or 70 houses there on the west side of the bridge, probably 85 percent of them have got water in the house. That water probably varies from just wetting the carpet to 30 or 40 inches in some of the houses."

The river was at 36.16 feet at 4 p.m. Monday, and it is expected to crest Friday at a record 37 feet, or 6 feet above flood stage. The previous record of 34.1 feet was set April 27, 1973.

Terry said the town of Pendleton is situated on the south bank of the river and is intersected by a bridge that takes U.S. 165 across the river. Only one or two houses on the east side of the bridge have taken on water because that portion of the town sits at a higher elevation, he said.

Most towns in the county are well away from the river, Terry said, and the few settlements that are close to it are mostly private property used for hunting.

"There may be a house or two back behind the levee, but most of the ones back there are fairly expensive and they have good, high levees built around them," Terry said.

Meteorologist Sean Clark with the National Weather Service said high water is expected to recede slowly in the area, and the river level is expected to remain above 36 feet for at least a week after it crests.

Information for this article was contributed by Dale Ellis of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

A Section on 06/04/2019

Print Headline: Flood threat rises around Lake Conway

Sponsor Content

Source Article

Boy, 4, drowns in central Arkansas swimming pool, authorities say

A 4-year-old boy is dead after drowning in a swimming pool at a Conway apartment complex on Friday night, authorities said.

The drowning, which occurred at the Salem Park Apartments, 2840 Dave Ward Drive, is believed to be accidental, Conway police said in a statement on Twitter shortly after 9:30 p.m. Friday.

Authorities said an investigation into the death is ongoing.

Your Conway Police Department is looking into the drowning death of a 4 year old boy at a swimming pool at Salem Park Apartments. It happened Friday night. At this point it appears to be an accidental drowning. The investigation is ongoing. pic.twitter.com/swpyz4riNB

— Conway Police Dept. (@ConwayPolice) May 18, 2019
Sponsor Content

Source Article

Find the Best Real Estate Agents in Conway, AR

In Conway, no matter what real estate needs you have, you’ll need one of the best real estate agents to get you the price you want. There are a total of 527 real estate agents active in Conway, but the top real estate agents in the area are proven to get better outcomes for their clients.

According to real estate transaction data analysis, the top 5% of seller’s agents in Conway, on average, sell homes for $28,063 more money than the average Conway real estate agent. The top 5% of buyer’s agents generally save clients 0.78% more than the average real estate agent in Conway.

U.S. News has partnered with HomeLight to use actual real estate sales data to compare the performance of real estate agents and Realtors® across the United States. For Conway, we analyzed real estate data including, but not limited to: how many properties the real estate agents have worked with, how quickly they’ve sold or bought properties for their clients and how much money they’ve earned or saved their clients.

U.S. News’ Find an Agent tool identifies your individual needs, maps your needs to an advanced real estate database, and then connects you with the most qualified real estate agents for you in Conway. Your top real estate agent and RealtorⓇ recommendations are unbiased: Agents can’t pay for placement and your matches are based solely on how the agents handled properties like yours in the past. Agents are compared to all other agents in the area on key performance indicators like transaction volume, listings, days on market, sale price to list price ratio, property type expertise, and other relevant data points in their transaction histories. To learn more about HomeLight’s real estate database and algorithm visit How We Identify Top Real Estate Agents.

When you find Top Real Estate Agents in Conway through U.S. News, we will email you up to three top real estate agents we’ve identified that meet your criteria, as well as call you to learn more about your real estate needs. We will share with you these real estate agents’ past transactions, areas of expertise, and reviews from past clients. Then you can ultimately decide which real estate agent best suits your needs.

When should I hire a real estate agent in Conway?

It all depends on the current state of the Conway real estate market, but we recommend speaking to a real estate agent as soon as you’re thinking of buying or selling a home in the area, which may be anywhere from three to nine months before you want to move.

How important is it to hire a top real estate agent in Conway?

Whether you’re buying or selling a home, the odds of getting the price you want are higher if you work with a top performing real estate agent. The top 5% of seller’s agents, on average, secure selling prices that are 0.17% more than the list price. The top 5% of buyer’s agents typically save their clients 0.78% more at closing than the average real estate agent.

What questions should I ask when interviewing Conway real estate agents?

It’s important to understand a potential real estate agent’s experience and expertise. Some essential questions to ask when interviewing real estate agents are: – How many homes have you sold/closed in the last 6 months? – Can you provide me with referrals? – What is your marketing and/or negotiation strategy? – Do you work with a team? – How many days, on average, do your listings take to sell? Any real estate agent that can’t answer one of these questions should raise a red flag.

Do the recommended real estate agents work for U.S. News?

No. The Conway real estate agents in this list were selected based on objective performance data and are not affiliated with U.S. News.

Source Article

The CALL board chairwoman is mother to 8

Brandy Fowler stands by The CALL Support Center in Conway. It is used for family visitations with foster children and meetings, and has clothing and supplies for foster and adoptive families. Fowler is the chairwoman of The CALL of Conway and Faulkner counties board of directors. She and her husband, Chad, have eight children — one biological, three adopted and four for whom they have permanent guardianship.

Brandy Fowler of Conway remembers as a child telling her mother that she wanted 10 kids — two biological and eight adopted.

“I almost did it,” she said.

She and her husband, Chad, both 37, have eight children — one biological, three adopted and four for whom they have

permanent guardianship. Their children’s ages are 2, 7, 8, 15, 17, 19, 20 and 21. Six of the eight children live at home: One daughter is married, and three are in college.

The Fowlers also have opened their home to 30 foster children in the past seven years.

“I never dreamed about going to college,” she said. “I dreamed about being a mom.”

Brandy doesn’t romanticize her own childhood, which was far from perfect. Her mother liked to move around, she said.

“I have lived in 16 states, 14 of them twice,” Brandy said.

When they landed in Marianna, that was it for Brandy. She met her now husband when she was a nanny for his aunt and uncle.

At 15, when her mother wanted to move yet again, Brandy refused.

“I said, ‘I’m in high school, I have a boyfriend, and I’m not moving.’ I bounced around from friend’s house to friend’s house to wherever I could lay my head the next two years,” she said.

Brandy and Chad got married when they were 17. She doesn’t recommend getting married so young, but it worked for them, she said.

“We just renewed our vows at 20 years in December. We say we were each other’s saving grace,” she said.

They quickly had a son, Layne, and when he was 1, the family moved to Conway, where Chad’s father and stepmother lived.

When Layne was 2 1/2, the Fowlers started trying to have another baby, and “it just didn’t happen,” Brandy said.

After six or seven years of trying to get pregnant, Brandy was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome.

“I tried fertility drugs. I didn’t like how they made me feel; it just wasn’t for us. We had decided we would like to adopt or foster,” she said.

The couple started a private adoption for a 2-year-old.

“It failed, and I was devastated,” Brandy said.

A woman at the Fowlers’ church, New Life in Conway, asked if the couple would consider fostering. They went to an information meeting for The CALL in January 2011.

“My husband was hooked by the end of the meeting,” Brandy said.

The CALL —Children of Arkansas Loved for a Lifetime — started in 2007 in Pulaski County. It is a faith-based, nonprofit organization that recruits foster families through churches. The CALL of Conway and Faulkner counties formed its board in 2009.

The Fowlers started fostering children in April 2011.

“At the time, we lived in this little two-bedroom townhouse,” Brandy said.

Little did she know how much room she’d need.

When the Fowlers’ son, Layne, was 12, Brandy got a phone call one Sunday morning. A relative called to tell them that Chad’s sister had given birth, and the Arkansas Department of Human Services was taking the child.

Brandy said that when she told Chad, he asked, “What sister?” He has six sisters. The Fowlers hadn’t talked to the woman in a few years, and they didn’t know she was pregnant.

They brought the baby, Haleigh, home when she was 10 days old. Brandy was over the moon.

“My son was an only child for 12 years; it was just me and him. My husband worked nights. I slept, ate and breathed him (Layne). We get this little girl, and I’m going nuts. Before I brought her home, that kid had 50 outfits and 20 pairs of shoes,” Fowler recalled, laughing.

The couple fostered Haleigh until she was 18 months old; then they adopted her.

In March 2014, they got a call from another of Chad’s relatives about his 9- and 2-year-old nieces who needed a home. The Fowlers took the children without hesitation and are their permanent guardians.

Then it was Brandy’s side of the family who needed them. Brandy said she had a brother who died by suicide in 2006, and he had two children. When his wife could no longer care for them, Brandy and Chad took the children.

“In March 2014, we went from a family of two kids to six kids in a 1,100-square-foot house — and we had two foster kids at that time,” she said.

Their hearts were expanding rapidly, but they needed more physical space. They took a break from fostering, found a larger home and started again in April 2016.

In 2017, they adopted a baby and a 14-year-old, despite Brandy’s concerns about the teenager.

They brought the baby, Brady, home from the hospital.

“We were in love with him. We call him our little ray of sunshine,” Brandy said. “He makes everything better.”

Brandy said the child’s mother struggled with substance abuse, and efforts to reunite her with the baby failed. Brandy said she and his mother “had an amazing connection” and stayed in touch. Today, the woman is doing well, and Brandy said she takes Brady to visit his biological mother.

The teenager, Genesis, was a foster child that Brandy said she had “absolutely no intention” of adopting. The Arkansas Department of Human Services called Brandy three times about taking the girl, now 17.

“We kind of fell in love with her. … We just knew she was supposed to be ours,” Brandy said.

She said although “it has been a roller coaster” with the teenager, she will never give up on Genesis. “She’s a great kid, and I love her with everything in me,” Brandy said.

Louise Witcher, coordinator for The CALL in Conway and Faulkner counties, said Brandy has helped many children because of her selfless heart.

“The thing is with Brandy … it doesn’t matter if [the child is] a baby or a teenager, purple or black or white or green — she loves unconditionally,” Witcher said. “Even the kids who have the hardest issues, that people would say, ‘Forget it, that’s not what I signed up for,’ not Brandy. Once she says forever, it’s forever, regardless.

“I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone as dedicated as Brandy is to children. She puts everybody above herself, for sure.”

Witcher said Brandy has been invaluable for The CALL support center, too.

“She’s my right hand, left hand, right foot, left foot,” Witcher said.

Brandy is chairwoman of the board for The CALL of Conway and Faulkner counties.

“There are 362 kids in Arkansas waiting to be adopted,” she said. “The sad part about that is, we have over 1,200 homes waiting to adopt. Nobody wants to adopt teenagers. We have sibling groups of four, five, six, seven. People don’t have the room or don’t want sibling groups.”

She’s also coordinator of The CALL Mall, which offers clothes, furniture and other supplies to parents who are fostering or adopting children. It is located inside The CALL support center, a renovated house in Conway.

Anytime she’s not working, Brandy said, she’s at The CALL Mall. For the past eight years, she has also managed the Shoe Choo Train children’s shoe store in Conway, but it is set to close in June. Brandy said she and Chad will continue to manage seven properties for the shoe-store owner.

Brandy said the couple have different strengths when it comes to raising their children.

“We’re totally opposite,” she said. “My husband is so laid-back. I tell him he sugar-coats everything. He’ll say, ‘Well, I did that, too, when I was young.’ I’m very optimistic; he’s pessimistic. I’m a worrier, and he’s not.”

The chores with eight children are never-ending.

“It takes teamwork,” she said. “He has no problem changing a diaper. He cooks dinner every night. He does all the laundry. I make sure the kids get to school, to the doctor, to counseling. I balance the checkbook. Everything we do is on a schedule.”

Chad works at DBG Arkansas, the former IC Bus operation in Conway.

“We have 26 nieces and nephews,” Brandy said. “They were our kids for 12 years of having one kid, so raising other people’s kids is not new to us.”

Brandy said she loves all her children, but she’s learned something that has eased her mother’s guilt.

She said most of her children come “from some sort of trauma.” Some go to counseling, to physical therapy or occupational therapy. One was just diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder; another has a sensory-processing disorder.

“I always struggled with treating my kids all the same, or I disciplined them all the same. … You can’t do that. It took me a long time in this journey to learn that,” she said. “God finally told me, ‘Every one of these is different. I created them different, and you’re going to love them different.’”

But love them she does.

And for Mother’s Day, she doesn’t want much.

“Mother’s Day is usually very laid-back,” she said. “I told my husband, ‘I just want a clean house. I want you to grill me a steak and have all my kids here,’” she said. “That’s my favorite part — being with my kids.”

Brandy said she and Chad have decided their family is complete.

“We’re done,” she said.

There will be grandchildren one day — but she’s in no hurry.

For now, eight is enough.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

Source Article

Firm’s collapse risked Arkansas care homes’ frail, raises concern about state’s oversight of owners

An Atlanta man who must repay millions to swindled investors received licenses to operate two Arkansas nursing homes, exposing shortcomings in the state’s vetting of potential providers, an Arkansas Democrat-Gazette investigation found.

The backgrounds and qualifications of incoming nursing home operators have generated heightened attention since the collapse of Skyline Health Care, a national chain that was licensed to operate 10% of the state’s 25,600 nursing home capacity when it failed last spring.

Skyline emerged from obscurity around 2015 to rapidly acquire more than 100 facilities across several states — 22 in Arkansas — before it cratered, its owners claiming insolvency.

The chain’s sudden collapse sent public health officials here and in other states scrambling to avoid evacuating Skyline nursing homes of thousands of frail residents.

Against that backdrop, the Democrat-Gazette this year began reviewing the state’s transfer of former Skyline licenses to new operators. The newspaper learned:

• The Arkansas Department of Human Services was unaware of an $83.1 million fraud judgment in 2015 against new licensee Christopher Brogdon of Atlanta until the newspaper asked about it, according to spokesman Amy Webb. Webb called the finding "concerning."

• Arkansas approved the transfer of 19 other former Skyline licenses to two firms with business or management ties to the failed company, even after the state attorney general’s office raised objections.

• Federal and state investigators grew alarmed with how the Human Services Department responded to the crisis. One federal agent asked whether state officials had been corrupted.

• State officials have little flexibility when it comes to vetting incoming providers, Webb said. Laws restrict the reasons for denying an applicant and limit insight into operators’ finances and backgrounds.

• While at least one other state changed its laws after Skyline’s failure, Arkansas has not yet addressed a system that allowed an out-of-state operator, Skyline, to quickly acquire and then jeopardize 1 in 10 of its licensed nursing home beds.

In a statement for this article, an advocate for nursing home residents said the Skyline ordeal is "only a small part of a much bigger problem" and called on Gov. Asa Hutchinson to "take a hard look at how nursing home licenses are handed out in this state."

"Families need to know exactly what the state of Arkansas is doing to make sure that whoever applies for a nursing home license has both the experience and the financial wherewithal to take care of the residents," said the advocate, Martha Deaver, president of Arkansas Advocates for Nursing Home Residents.

Webb defended Arkansas’ approach to the overarching crisis as "thoughtful and thorough in a really difficult situation."

"We wanted to make the right decisions for the residents, [to] make sure residents were safe and well cared for," Webb said. "They were our priority. And we feel like we made the best and most appropriate decisions."

SKYLINE’S DEMISE

Skyline’s rise was swift; its fall even swifter.

Joseph Schwartz, a longtime insurance broker who specialized in the health care industry, founded Skyline in 2005. He ran it from an office atop a Wood-Ridge, N.J., pizza parlor, according to news reports.

In its first decade, Skyline owned six health care facilities, according to a biography Schwartz provided to Pennsylvania regulators, later published by Philly.com, the website for The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News.

Beginning in 2015, Skyline acquired more than 70 nursing homes, most over a one-year period, according to the document.

A former Arkansas spokesman for Skyline said the company operated 114 facilities nationwide at its peak.

On March 23, 2018, a Friday, Nebraska seized 21 Skyline nursing homes after learning that day that the company would not be able to make payroll. Within a week, Kansas moved to seize 15 Skyline nursing homes.

South Dakota and Pennsylvania followed afterward, taking a combined 28 nursing homes from the company by May 2, according to news reports.

Arkansas officials assumed control over just two of Skyline’s nursing homes on May 4 through local court orders and appointed an Arkansas provider to manage the facilities in Hazen and Dierks.

The state had not taken over a nursing home in more than three decades.

Both properties had lost access to credit, meaning they were at risk of not being able to pay for necessities such as food or medical supplies, Webb said.

The company’s other 19 properties still had lines of credit, so state officials decided to increase monitoring at those locations — sending staff members to each one at least once a week — instead of seizing them, Webb said. Skyline had already sold one of its licenses at this point.

Illinois-based Infinity Healthcare Management ultimately contracted with Skyline to temporarily manage the 19 homes, the agreement shows.

The approach diverged from other states. Months later, investigators probing Skyline expressed puzzlement over Arkansas’ decision to seize only two of Skyline’s homes.

Webb said the 19 other homes, under stricter monitoring, were better run after Infinity stepped in.

"There was food," Webb said. "The employees got paid. The vendors got paid. And [residents] were well cared for. At the end of the day, those are the really important things to us that we want to see at a facility. And we did see that with Infinity."

Skyline simultaneously worked to find buyers for its remaining facilities. The Human Services Department approved the last of the licensing transfers in January.

The outcome sparked more questions.

BROGDON TRUST

A trust managed by Brogdon, the Atlanta businessman, holds 100 percent interest in two newly formed limited liability corporations (LLCs) licensed to operate two former Skyline facilities in Hazen and Lonoke.

The trust acquired the Lonoke license in February 2018, weeks before Skyline’s problems exploded into public view. The trust received the Hazen license in September, while Skyline was offloading all of its licenses.

Brogdon has a public track record of legal troubles. Yet, Arkansas officials detected none when they ran a background check on him, according to Webb.

Such background checks flag criminal convictions or operators who are on interstate lists of excluded providers. But they do not pick up civil cases or criminal charges that were dropped as part of a settlement, Webb said.

Even if officials had known of Brogdon’s background, they may have been powerless to deny him the licenses, Webb said. That’s because the state’s default position is to approve change-of-ownership transfers unless an applicant meets one of four specific conditions set out in state law.

Arkansas Code Ann. 20-10-224 says the department "may deny a license" if an applicant has a felony conviction, a license revocation in the past three years, runs facilities that had serious long-term care violations, or if other facilities failed to be in "substantial compliance" with standards in the past year.

Twenty years ago, Brogdon and a partner faced several criminal charges — eight total counts of elder abuse, racketeering, Medicaid fraud and grand theft — related to resident care at a Gainesville, Fla., nursing home they operated.

Florida prosecutors dropped the charges against the duo in January 2000, court records show. Brogdon’s dismissal sheet lists the reason as "2T," which means to be refiled later, according to the former state’s attorney who signed the document. The charges were never refiled.

Neither the state attorney who dismissed the case, Rod W. Smith, nor the prosecutor who filed the charges, Greg McMahon, could specifically recall why the case was dropped.

McMahon, who was on Smith’s staff, vividly recalled details of the charges and said he believed investigators had enough evidence to win a conviction. But he said he remembered nothing about the dismissal.

"My obvious decision as to charging [Brogdon] was to keep him out of Florida, but also to keep him in jail," McMahon said.

Brogdon’s attorneys had argued for dismissal in court filings, saying investigators had not proven that Brogdon was involved in day-to-day management of the nursing home.

An October 2018 report in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, citing records not found in Brogdon’s individual criminal case file, said Brogdon-affiliated companies turned over operations of the Gainesville facility to a new firm and agreed to pay a $377,000 fine before the dismissal.

After the Florida case dissolved, Brogdon built a network of nursing homes. He was president and chairman of Global Healthcare REIT, as well as vice chairman and acquisitions chief for AdCare Health Systems, a publicly traded company that owned several nursing homes in Arkansas until 2016.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission sued Brogdon for securities fraud in November 2015. One month later, a federal judge ordered him to repay investors in 19 bond and private financing offerings.

The SEC complaint accused him of using the money he raised for personal gain and to prop up business interests that were outside the scope of the borrowing. It said Brogdon misled investors in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities as far back as 2000.

The court deemed Brogdon unfit to run publicly traded companies and barred him from management or director roles at firms that report to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

A phone number listed for Brogdon in the Arkansas change-of-ownership application is not a working number. An attorney representing him in the SEC case did not respond to emails.

Today, a trust managed by Brogdon — called the Brogdon Grandchildren’s Trust — has contracted with a for-profit company, owned by Brogdon, to provide management services at both of its Arkansas facilities.

Brogdon signed each of the two management contracts on behalf of both the trust and the for-profit company, called Marsh Pointe Management LLC. The deals give Marsh Pointe, in which Brogdon is the sole member, 5 percent of the Lonoke nursing home’s gross revenue and 3 percent of the Hazen home’s gross revenue, the agreements show.

Aside from the two Arkansas facilities, Brogdon and his wife are affiliated with eight other nursing homes as stockholders or officers, all in Oklahoma, according to a list provided by the Oklahoma State Department of Health.

The Brogdons’ affiliation with those facilities dates back to 2011 and 2014, before the SEC complaint, according to a Medicare.gov database.

Of the other 20 Arkansas nursing homes Skyline once operated, one went to Ovation Health Systems, co-owned by Anthony and Bryan Adams of Conway.

The remaining 19 were divided between two firms with direct connections to Skyline — seven to a startup nonprofit called Community Compassion Centers of Arkansas and 12 to Infinity, the Illinois management company, records show.

‘THE GRINDER’

Executives of both firms distanced themselves from Skyline in interviews with the Democrat-Gazette.

Community Compassion president and chairman Randy Wyatt, a Little Rock native, worked for Skyline as an executive vice president for public affairs.

In that role Wyatt communicated with local communities, public officials and the media on the company’s behalf.

He also brokered a meeting between Skyline executives and Attorney General Leslie Rutledge’s office, he said.

Rutledge’s office "had some questions about some issues that were going on and wanted to meet" in late 2017, Wyatt said, adding that he didn’t remember the specific issue.

In a series of four agreements with the attorney general’s office, from April 2017 to May 2018, Skyline agreed to pay $205,000 in civil fines and staff training costs to settle 12 investigations by Rutledge’s office into poor resident care, records show.

For context, Rutledge’s office fined all other nursing home operators $492,000 in 2017 and 2018.

Wyatt said he left Skyline in February 2018 after learning that the company did not pay for his health insurance despite deducting premiums from his paycheck.

Wyatt learned that after being stuck with a $25,000 medical bill, he said. Several other employees were similarly burdened with large bills they didn’t expect, he said.

"That was the last straw. They hurt people," Wyatt said, adding that Skyline’s owners "are not people I will associate with ever again."

Meanwhile, Infinity — operating in Arkansas under the brand name "Waters" — had long-standing business relationships with the Schwartz family that owned Skyline.

Infinity’s principals, Michael Blisko and Moishe Gubin, partnered with Schwartz’s wife, Rosie, in two of their 14 Illinois nursing homes, according to that state’s records. Rosie Schwartz held 30% and 20% interest in those properties, the records show.

Arkansas officials delayed the ownership transfers for months, an abnormally long time, according to Webb and Gubin.

The state put the company through "the grinder," Gubin said recently.

One of the reasons for the delay "was relationships with the Schwartzes," Webb said.

Human Services Department officials learned that Schwartz family members held interest in Infinity; the state asked that the Schwartzes divest before the licensing transfer, Webb said. They complied, she said.

"We requested that they divest because we weren’t going to do business if it was going to be similar to Skyline," Webb said. "It was certainly a concern for us. But we saw [Infinity] acting in good faith."

Gubin said that Infinity, which operates more than 70 properties across five states, has a strong reputation nationwide.

"We have our own track record that stands on its own," Gubin said.

CONCERN EXPRESSED

Arkansas’ approach to the national Skyline problem confounded investigators.

An agent in the federal human services agency’s inspector general’s office asked whether "public corruption or inappropriate influence" explained Arkansas officials’ approach, Deputy Attorney General Lloyd Warford wrote last August in an email to state Medicaid Inspector General Elizabeth Smith.

Warford paraphrased the federal agent’s concern and said he was opening an investigative case on Skyline in the email, which the newspaper obtained from the Arkansas Human Services Department through an open-records request.

Among 12 questions the Democrat-Gazette emailed to Rutledge’s office this month was whether Warford was concerned about corruption within the Human Services Department during the Skyline crisis.

"The emails available speak for themselves and any further correspondence constitute the attorney general’s unpublished memoranda, working papers and correspondence, and are exempt from disclosure," communications director Amanda Priest replied.

Priest provided a similar response for seven of the newspaper’s questions, though she did confirm that the office’s fraud investigation into Skyline is ongoing.

Also last August, Warford told Human Services Director Cindy Gillespie by email that Rutledge’s office was concerned about the pending license transfers. He cited a conference call with Nebraska and federal officials concerning an unidentified ex-Skyline director in that state who moved to a company that was acquiring the Arkansas licenses.

"I was instructed to advise you that the Attorney General’s Office is opposed to allowing the transfer to occur if the facts as presented [in the call] are correct," Warford wrote, adding that the office would help the department litigate if the denied applicant filed suit.

Warford did not name the company in the email. Both Infinity and Community Compassion by then had notified Arkansas officials of their intent to buy some of the Skyline homes.

When asked whether Warford believes the Human Services Department should have approved the change-of-ownership applications, Priest simply referred to Arkansas Code Ann. 20-10-224, which specifies the criteria the department may consider when reviewing application packets.

Rutledge’s office "did express concern, but they did not give us grounds for denial," Webb said.

"I absolutely do not think there was anything untoward in how we handled it," Webb said. "What is important to know about the Skyline situation is it was not just one person making decisions. There was a whole group of people together following this very closely."

ROUTINE PRACTICE

Officials did not push new legislation related to the change-of-ownership process in the recently concluded legislative session, but Webb signaled openness to addressing the laws moving forward.

"I don’t think we’d be opposed to looking at the [change-of-ownership] statutes and making changes," Webb said. "It’s just not something we’ve done at this point, yet."

The Arkansas Health Care Association, which primarily represents nursing homes, is open to giving the state more authority during the vetting process, Executive Director Rachel Bunch said.

"We want that to be done correctly, and we’re supportive of appropriate vetting," Bunch said. "We’re trying to look at other states to see what they’re doing … so we can be part of that conversation if [the Human Services Department] decides to go that route."

In Kansas, where officials took over all 15 Skyline nursing homes last year, the Legislature passed a bill this month specifically in response to the crisis, officials said.

The new law requires stricter disclosure of applicants’ finances, including a detailed budget for the first year of operation and evidence the applicant has access to sufficient "working capital." It also bars any operator of seized homes from obtaining a license for 10 years.

"We don’t want these types of operators in the state," said Kim Lynch, chief counsel in the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services.

As the Skyline saga played out in Arkansas, one key point of contention between Rutledge’s office and the Human Services Department emerged, according to emails: the lack of a criminal fraud investigation.

Craig Cloud, the Human Services Department official over provider quality assurance, said at an early 2018 meeting that included Rutledge that her office would receive a fraud referral within a week, according to one of Warford’s emails. That never happened.

Cloud was unavailable for an interview for this article, Webb said.

Ultimately, the department initiated a "recoupment" against Skyline for $4.7 million, essentially an administrative remedy rather than a criminal charge.

Medicaid payment rates are based on costs nursing homes report to the state for resident care. Skyline in this case was accused of inflating its expenses through the long-term use of a staffing contract company, Webb said.

Asked why this didn’t constitute fraud, Webb said it can be difficult to prove intent. The law is open to interpretation, she said.

State officials saw it one way, and Skyline saw it another, so they resolved the problem by taking back the overpayment, a routine practice, she said.

Warford, the deputy attorney general, saw a different angle.

"I don’t think DHS has anyone who really understands what fraud looks like," he wrote in an August email to the state’s Medicaid inspector general, using the acronym for Arkansas’ largest agency. "Does DHS think Skyline did this by accident here in Arkansas?"

Information for this article was contributed by Bobby Ampezzan for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

SundayMonday on 04/28/2019

Print Headline: Firm’s fall risked Arkansas care homes’ frail

Source Article

About 300 face eviction as central Arkansas trailer park shutting

Brookside Village Mobile Community in Conway

Hundreds of people are scrambling to find housing and moving money after the owner of a central Arkansas mobile home park told residents that he plans to shut down the 114-home facility, citing utility rate increases.

The announcement comes in the wake of dozens of city violations being filed against the Brookside Village Mobile Community in Conway. That has raised questions among housing advocates and residents about whether higher water and sewer bills are the only reasons for closing the park.

The closure stands to displace more than 300 people.

In an April 15 letter sent to residents, Brookside owner Bruce Keathley said he planned to close the park June 30. He wrote that residents would need to move their homes and continue paying rent in the meantime.

Keathley’s attorney, Mark Riable, said operating the more than 5-acre park has gotten expensive and that the park is no longer profitable.

He said Brookside’s water bills have been $15,000 to $20,000 in past months.

A spokesman for Conway Corp., which operates the city-owned utility system, confirmed that it raised water rates at the beginning of 2018 but said sewer rates haven’t gone up since 2014. He said the fees are based on usage, and several factors can cause fluctuating or higher bills.

Residents and housing advocates wondered whether the numerous city violation citations filed against the park owner — potentially costing tens of thousands of dollars — also influenced the decision to close.

Since last month, the city levied 171 code violations, averaging $250 per citation against the park’s owner, according to city records reviewed by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Violations included reports of dilapidated buildings, piles of used tires, broken appliances and materials lying around, and "obnoxious odors" caused by sewers, among others.

Conway spokesman Bobby Kelly said the city isn’t targeting Keathley or Brookside but has increased its code enforcement efforts in recent months after adding to its staff.

Riable said he plans to argue against the allegations in court, saying many of the reported infractions happened in people’s private homes, which are outside his client’s responsibility.

"I think he’s been generally supportive of the community," Riable said, adding that the decision to close in June was based on children’s school schedules.

He said the park owner offered to help connect residents with mobile home movers or in finding other living arrangements.

The reason for the closure matters less than the fact that people are being told to leave, said Phillip Fletcher, director of City of Hope Outreach, a nonprofit in Conway that is raising money to help Brookside residents relocate.

The reason for the closure "doesn’t change what’s happening to these people on the ground," he said. "Our focus is to help these women, children and families."

Fletcher estimated that at least 300 people live in the park. Residents pay up to $300 per month to rent space in the lot for their trailers.

Moving a trailer is expensive, and some of the trailers might need to be scrapped because they aren’t safe to move, Fletcher said.

Also, he said a number of the residents are financing their homes, compounding the cost of moving them, which can be $2,000 or more depending on the distance.

"It’s not a cheap affair," Fletcher said.

He said Tuesday that he wasn’t sure how much money his group had raised for the displaced residents.

"There’s been a lot of anger but also tears and sadness," Fletcher said. "I’m hoping people will … sympathize with the situations of these families."

Metro on 04/24/2019

Print Headline: About 300 face eviction as central Arkansas trailer park shutting

Source Article

Eviction notice stuns residents of biggest mobile home park in Conway

CONWAY, Ark. — Hundreds of Conway residents are worried about where they are going to live, because the owner of their mobile home park said he is shutting the whole thing down.

Brookside Village is the biggest mobile home park in Conway, but it will be empty come July 1. Residents found out when a letter arrived in their mailboxes this week telling them that all of them will be evicted.

“Shock,” Elizabeth Estrada said Wednesday, tears forming in her eyes as she recalled her reaction to reading the letter. “The first thing is shock because, I mean, you’ve been here for so many years.”

The letter showed up on Monday. Bruce Keathely, who owns the property, wrote that, “due to Conway Corporation increasing sewer and water rates, Brookside Village are ceasing operations effective June 30, 2019.”

“You have to, you know, keep your head up and start looking for solutions,” Estrada said. “And you have to be able to stay strong, especially for the kids. You don’t want your kids looking at you and being desperate, and not knowing what’s going to happen to their house, or if they’re going to go homeless in two months or not.”

City of Hope Outreach has started to help residents plan their moves. The non-profit has had a resource center on the premises since 2012, which includes an after-school program for children, English classes for Spanish-speaking adults, and more.

“I’ve had some of the same kids for the entire time that we’ve been here, and so, we really get to know the families really well,” said Mary Nabholz, Director of Educational Initiatives at Brookside Village for City of Hope Outreach.

Nabholz said families are experiencing the stages of grief as they cope with the reality that they are being forced to uproot their lives. “I think it’s going to be really difficult,” she added, “because several of these families have been here for a long period of time, and it’s really become, it’s a very family-oriented neighborhood.”

Estrada grew up in Brookside Village, and then bought her own place here to be closer to her family.

“You always can count on your neighbor,” she said. “Like, the kids. If you are not able to be here by the time your kid is supposed to be here, you can always, you know, call someone and ask them, ‘hey, can you pick them up?’ So, you know you can rely on someone.”

Estrada estimated that it will cost around $2,000 to move, if she is able to find another park nearby; more if she is forced to move outside Conway. But she mentioned that most parks have qualifying standards for mobile homes, and many people in Brookside Village have homes that are not sturdy enough to move.

“They have to leave everything behind and start all over again,” she stated. “Which, a lot of us are immigrants, so we already went through it. We know we can go, but it’s hard. Especially with the kids. It’s just hard. It’s just really hard.

“I started working, actually, today was my first day, so I can have a little extra income, so we can afford it. My mom is my babysitter because I have a three-year-old and she’s still not enrolled in school. So, now we’re going to have a little more expenses, because wherever she goes, I’m going to have to go and drop off my kid.”

Estrada said she and her neighbors had heard rumors over the last few years that the park might close, but that Keathely assured them each time that it would not.

“The main question that most of us have,” she said, “is: he charged $300 per month. It’s 113 homes. We were doing the math—and that’s just for the lot rent, not including what he gets paid for the homes that are being bought—it’s $33,000 monthly. If the water bill is the problem, why he doesn’t have enough money to pay. Like, how did that happen?”

Keathely did not respond to multiple requests from THV11 for a comment.

Estrada also said neighbors had been told that if Brookside Village did close, Keathely would give residents lots of advance notice. She feels like 11 weeks is a very short amount of time, given the difficulty of finding a new mobile home park or finding a new home entirely.

“If we would’ve known since the beginning of the year, we wouldn’t have this issue, because at least we had more months,” she said. “That’s all we’re asking for. I don’t know—we actually don’t know who to ask for more time. I don’t know if it’s, like, the City of Conway, or if it’s him, or the governor. We don’t know. We’re just asking for them to, just, please touch their hearts and let us have at least two more months.”

Manny Sepulveda owns a home in Brookside Village and works for the Arkansas Immigrant Integration Project. Since many of the residents in Brookside Village are immigrants, he said he feels a sense of responsibility to find a solution. But he believes the answer does not lie with the park or its residents.

“The City of Conway,” he began, who talks about economic development, that talks about not having more homeless, that talks about having more families move into the city to make it help grow, as well as Conway Corp, that is being blamed—and I don’t know the truth. I don’t know what really happened—is being blamed for the cause of closing this mobile home park.

“But, I can tell you this: it’s a very real possibility we’re going to have 20-25 homeless families come June 30th, and I think it’s an imperative, both on part of the city and on part of Conway Corporation to come together and see if something can be worked out.”

Nahbolz said several community partners have already pledged to help the residents. First Security Bank established a Brookside Family Fund, and anyone may donate at any First Security Bank branch, with all the money going to the residents.

City of Hope Outreach will host a community meeting at its office on the Brookside Village property Thursday at 7:00 p.m. Community supporters will be able to discuss the resources they can offer, and neighbors can plan their next steps.

Source Article