Over the past four years, New Jersey-based Portopiccolo Group has been building a nursing-home portfolio rivaling some of the nation’s largest chains. The firm acquired its first skilled nursing facility in 2016, and today it owns or operates approximately 100 facilities under dozens of different names, including Accordius, Pelican Health and Orchid Cove, according to an analysis in Barron’s Thursday. The majority of these facilities, the report noted, have only come under Portopiccolo’s ownership 2019.

Barron’s examined property records, corporate filings, federal provider data and conducted  interviews with current and former employees to better understand the firm’s “rapid-fire” nursing-home takeovers, current facility operations and its effect on COVID-19 outbreaks within its facilities. 

Investigators found that in recent months, Portopiccolo’s existing nursing home portfolio has seen at least 1,400 COVID-19 cases among residents and staff and more than 200 deaths, according to state and federal data. Further, although nursing home inspections were sharply curtailed once the pandemic began, since March, at least 10% of Portopiccolo-affiliated facilities have been cited for infection-control violations, including failure to screen workers for COVID-19 symptoms, staff not wearing personal protective equipment and not following social distancing guidelines among residents. To compare, less than 3% of nursing homes inspected during the pandemic nationwide have been cited for infection-control violations, according to a Center for Medicare Advocacy analysis of almost 10,000 inspections.

Even as the virus continued in June, the firm obtained federal provider identification numbers for 11 facilities currently affiliated with Grace Healthcare, a step that often signals potential interest in acquiring ownership, Barrons noted. Portopiccolo also has had preliminary discussions with Genesis HealthCare about acquiring two additional Florida facilities, a Genesis spokeswoman told the news organization.

Some industry experts say one of the main problems is that these deals often receive little scrutiny from state regulators. If a nursing home sale doesn’t go through, then the state might have to move the residents, “and they don’t want to do that,” Charlene Harrington, RN. Ph.D., professor emerita at the University of California, San Francisco, and a researcher who has studied large for-profit nursing home chains, told Barron’s. 

“The states just want somebody to own the facility. They really don’t care who,” Harringon added.

This article appeared in the McKnight’s Business Daily, a joint effort of McKnight’s Senior Living and McKnight’s Long-Term Care News.