Senior-housing company unlikely to face legal action

SALEM — A Salem company that operates 280 senior housing facilities in 38 states says it is making progress toward resolving legal problems, including an investigation by California authorities, who searched its offices in 2005.

California's Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse told Sunwest in a December letter that it had closed its investigation and "will not file a criminal or civil action against Sunwest or any employee."

At the time, California officials said a complaint by an ombudsman triggered the investigation, focused on a Yreka, Calif., facility where officials also searched for records.

The company manages Morrow Heights Assisted Living in Rogue River. It also oversees three facilities in Grants Pass and Klamath Falls.

Wally Gutzler, Sunwest's executive vice president and general counsel, told the Salem Statesman Journal for a story this week that the company isn't certain what California was investigating.

In one instance, "disgruntled employees" upset with a manager spurred the state's interest, Gutzler said.

In its letter, the California bureau, part of the state Department of Justice, said, "Sunwest should not interpret this decision as the (agency) acquiescing to or condoning Sunwest's various activities or practices that gave rise to the investigation."

On another front, Sunwest confirmed it is poised to settle two class-action lawsuits filed by attorneys representing residents of its homes in California and Oregon. The complaints accuse the company of understaffing its facilities and seek compensation for Sunwest residents.

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