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Mount View nominee stirs controversy Prospective administrator had questionable record elsewhere

Robert E. Sobon, who was administrator of a bankrupt Williamsville nursing home when it was rated among the worst in New York State, was presented Thursday as the man who will preside over the shutdown of Mount View Health Facility.

Niagara County Manager Gregory D. Lewis announced his nomination of Sobon as the next and presumably last administrator of Mount View. The County Legislature on June 26 voted to close the 172-bed nursing home by June 30, 2008.

In an e-mail to reporters, the vacationing Lewis wrote, "Mr. Sobon went through our interview process and did quite well. He is experienced and well-qualified, fully licensed. . . . He will be committed to protecting and serving the residents and working with employees in this time of transition."

Lewis did not reply to phone calls and e-mails asking whether he was aware of the problems at Williamsville Suburban when Sobon was administrator. Legacy Health Care, owner of the facility, said Sobon worked there from March 18, 2005, through July 20, 2006.

Before working for Legacy, Sobon was administrator of the Livingston County Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation from July 1999 to August 2000. After that, he was administrator of the skilled-nursing facility at Wyoming County Community Hospital, but the dates of his service there were not available. The Wyoming County facility was fined twice by the state in 2002 for a total of $8,000, resulting from four quality-of-care violations, but it was unclear whether Sobon was there at the time.

The county did not release a resume for Sobon, 39, a Buffalo resident, and he could not be reached to comment Thursday.

"The appointment of this gentleman needs to be looked into in greater depth," said Legislator Danny W. Sklarski, chairman of the Community Services Committee, which is to take up the Sobon appointment Monday. Sklarski said he would not permit a vote unless questions are answered satisfactorily.

Sobon was not Lewis' first or second choice. Thomas F. Schobert, administrator of Niagara Rehabilitation Center in Niagara Falls, was his first choice, but he turned down a permanent appointment, preferring to remain as acting administrator, a contract that runs through Aug. 10. Lewis said in May that he would turn to a North Tonawanda man whom he would not identify, but apparently he also backed out.

Schobert said Thursday that he knows Sobon. "Bob is a well-respected professional," Schobert said. "I think he's an excellent candidate for the facility."

But Sklarski said after learning of the problems at Williamsville Suburban, "If that is, in fact, the case, I'm disappointed in the selection committee."

In August of last year, Consumers Union, the not-for-profit organization that publishes Consumer Reports magazine, rated the 220-bed Williamsville Suburban among the worst 10 percent of nursing homes in the state. The rating was based on state inspection reports through September 2005.

Legacy Health Care had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in February 2005, the month before Sobon started working there. Utilities had threatened to shut off service to the nursing home in December 2004 because of overdue bills.

According to the state Health Department's Web site, a June 2005 inspection at Williamsville Suburban showed that "significant corrections" were needed in quality of care and in the facility's overall rating, while corrections were also needed in administration, residents' rights and dietary services.

Significant corrections, according to the Web site, are caused by problems "that have caused actual harm or compromised the resident's ability to maintain or improve health status."

Corrections were still needed in a Sept. 7 reinspection, and not until Sept. 19, when Williamsville Suburban was inspected again, was compliance achieved.

But by April 7, 2006, another inspection found that problems in administration and residents' rights were so serious as to give Williamsville Suburban an overall rating of "immediate jeopardy," defined as "deficiencies that have caused or are likely to cause serious harm, injury, impairment or death if not immediately rectified."

They were rectified by the time of a May 25, 2006, reinspection, less than two months before Sobon left.

For all of 2005 and 2006, according to the Health Department, it had received 87 complaints about Williamsville Suburban and issued 27 deficiency citations, including a $1,000 fine from an incident described in the legal documents as "an accident." No further information was available.

By contrast, during the same period, despite continual turmoil about its future, Mount View was the subject of 11 complaints to the state and only one deficiency citation.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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