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New owners to rebrand, revamp Duluth nursing and rehab center

Hilltop Healthcare, formerly Chris Jensen Health and Rehabilitation Center, was purchased by New Jersey business partners earlier this year.

Hilltop Healthcare exterior
Hilltop Healthcare at 2501 Rice Lake Road in Duluth, pictured Tuesday.
Laura Butterbrodt / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — Three New Jersey nursing home administrators are working to improve conditions at Hilltop Healthcare, formerly Chris Jensen Health and Rehabilitation, on Rice Lake Road.

Steven Friedman, Ephraim Halpert and Naomi Halpert, who operate together as Jensen Health LLC, purchased the 140-bed nursing facility in June for $15.8 million, according to public land records. Friedman said the new name, Hilltop Healthcare, was decided in part because of the facility's location, and in part to show the community the care center is a new entity now.

"The changing of the name is to signify that we're not doing things the way they were," Friedman said. "The facility had a lot of good things going for it, a lot of dedicated staff, but the prior management and ownership wasn't providing enough guidance, especially as COVID upset a lot of places. They didn't recover from that."

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The Chris Jensen Health and Rehabilitation Center, now named Hilltop Healthcare, on July 10, 2020.
Tyler Schank / File / Duluth News Tribune

He said the three co-owners are taking a more hands-on approach to the facility's function to improve the care offered there. One of the first changes they made was contacting the labor union about negotiating a new contract before its expiration next February. Friedman said there were limitations for hiring certified nursing assistants with five or more years of experience because of a cap on the wage scale.

"We saw how the wages were not aggressive enough to compete locally with the other skilled nursing facilities," Friedman said. "We proactively reached out to the union and renegotiated a contract with significant increases across the board, in all departments."

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Friedman said having live entertainment in house is an important morale boost for residents, so they've made sure to implement weekly performances from local musicians.

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Hilltop Healthcare is also undergoing several maintenance updates, including reinstalling electronic medical record kiosks and education programming for staff; repairing the elevators; and upgrading the security system and other mechanical equipment refurbishment. They have hired new staff as well.

Friedman said he and the Halperts decided to buy the Duluth facility after they researched the area and identified places for improvement at the former Chris Jensen Health and Rehabilitation Center.

Providers at St. Luke's and Essentia say national shortages of amoxicillin, Adderall and Tamiflu are felt locally, but not fully disrupting care at this point.

"A friend of mine who owns facilities in Minnesota heard of this deal from a broker and we were ready for another home," Friedman said. "Sometimes you look at at a home and there's nothing you can do, because when someone's selling something, they're almost always in distress. We identified what we felt we could do and we're pretty happy with it. There's a lot more to do — we're not done and we're going to put in the time and effort."

They have also hired several new staff members at Hilltop Healthcare as part of its management team.

"When there's people who aren't present or there's always someone changing or there's always a new director of nursing or a new manager, residents don't feel secure," Friedman said. "So having people who are on the same page and present, that ultimately makes our residents and their families feel secure. That's what we're trying to build here."

Chris Jensen Health, which was managed by Health Dimensions Group of Minneapolis, received 50 substantiated complaints from the Minnesota Department of Health since January 2020.

Four nurses at a Duluth assisted living facility neglected a resident when they failed to perform CPR after the resident was found unresponsive, a state agency found. The resident at Chris Jensen Health and Rehab Center died, according to a repor...

According to recent health department evaluations, the facility has been compliant with state requirements since August. However, because of previous violations, the facility is prohibited from conducting nursing aide training and/or competency evaluation programs until Aug. 20, 2024, according to health department documents.

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The three new administrators have more than 50 years of combined experience as skilled nursing facility administrators at nursing homes in New Jersey, Nebraska, Tennessee and Pennsylvania.

"We're trying to bring a high-end degree of operational involvement and innovation to make the facility the premier skilled rehab destination in our area to best service our residents," Friedman said.

Hilltop Healthcare celebrated its new name and ownership Tuesday morning with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and reception with the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce.

Related Topics: DULUTHHEALTHBUSINESS
Laura Butterbrodt covers health for the Duluth News Tribune. She has a bachelor of arts in journalism from South Dakota State University and has been working as a reporter in Minnesota and South Dakota since 2014.
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