WESTBROOK – An independent living facility for seniors in Westbrook is being cited for the second time in 10 years for a leaking leach field, as the property’s owner continues to grapple with financial problems at seven other similar properties that have remained in state receivership since 2008.

This week, Sifwat Ali, owner of the Countryside Villa at 401 Brook St., insisted that the leach field problem is in hand.

“We will be very conscientious about it,” Ali said.

Countryside Villa, according to manager David Hall, is home to 22 residents, and has a capacity of 26. The facility, which is assessed by the city at $216,000, is not serviced by the city sewer system. Instead, wastewater is drawn into a leach field, or an area of ground on the property that is made up of several layers of different types of soil, designed to act as a natural filter.

Rick Gouzie, Westbrook’s code enforcement officer, said he recently inspected the property and found the leaking leach field.

“It’s got to be repaired or replaced,” he said this week.

Gouzie said the situation is similar to a problem he discovered on the property in 2006. At the time, the company offered to patch the field in an operation Gouzie described as a “Band-Aid” solution. Gouzie said the company plans to do the same thing this time, which means there’s a good chance that the property will have the same problem in another five years.

“The state approved this kind of rejuvenation, so there really isn’t a whole lot I can do,” he said.

Ali acknowledged this week that the plan to fix the problem is not ideal, but to fix it permanently would cost $50,000-$60,000 that he cannot afford right now. But, he said, he is committed to ensuring the facility remains safe for its residents.

“In the meantime, I will make sure the problem is fixed,” he said.

Meanwhile, the financial issues that forced seven nursing and assisted-living homes controlled by Ali to acquiesce to state control three years ago have not yet been resolved.

Ali is listed in court documents filed in 2008 in Kennebec County Superior Court as the chief executive officer of Eagle Landing Residential Care, the Connecticut-based owner of seven assisted-living and nursing homes in Maine, including Rocky Hill Manor and Dolley Farm Residential Care in Westbrook.

The documents, which are part of a petition for receivership by the state Department of Health and Human Services, allege that Ali and the company fell so far behind trying to pay bills on the facilities that payroll checks could not be cashed, oil could not be delivered, and one employee needed to use a personal credit card to get Internet service restored to one facility.

The case caused all seven of the facilities to fall under state receivership, which means the state oversees management of the facilities’ books. Countryside Villa is not one of the properties in receivership.

“It’s not about patient care at this point,” John Martins, a spokesman for the state Department of Health and Human Services, said this week. “It’s about keeping the facilities (running).”

At the time, the state approved the allocation of at least $87,000 to fund the management of the facilities, but this week Martin said it was unclear how much the state has paid to help run the facilities in all.

“It’s definitely not supposed to be a permanent solution,” he said.

Ali, when the suit was filed in 2008, blamed his company’s financial problems on a lack of patients at one of the facilities, Penobscot Nursing Home in Penobscot. Between the lack of patients and structural issues with the building, Ali said, the company was losing around $100,000 a month through eight or nine months. Despite the problems, Ali insisted that no residents’ health or well-being were ever in danger.

“No resident has been moved out of any facility,” he said in a 2008 interview. “The residents were not in any danger.”

The seven facilities remain under state receivership, with no clear timeline as to when that may end, according to Brenda Kielty, special assistant to the Maine attorney general.

This week, Ali said he believes he and his company have been unfairly “punished” by the state through the receivership.

“I personally have nothing to hide,” he said. “There’s no reason for (the receivership) to be there. It’s not justified.”

Ali noted there is new leadership at the Department of Health and Human Services, and once those administrators become fully aware of the situation, he is confident the receivership will be lifted.

Despite Ali being connected to both the seven receivership properties and Countryside Villa, they are separate situations. A license on display in the lobby of Countryside Villa indicates that the facility is owned by Eagle Landing Management Co., which Kielty confirmed is separate from Eagle Landing Residential Care, and beyond the scope of the 2008 petition. Kielty said there is no known history of complaints with Countryside Villa, calling its management company “a separate but related entity.”

The Countryside Villa, an independent living facility for
seniors at 401 Brook St., Westbrook, has been cited for a problem
with a leaking leach field. It is the second time the facility has
had this problem in 10 years. (Staff photo by Sean Murphy)

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