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Nursing Homes Cry All the Way to the Bank

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- My mom turned 90 yesterday, so I'm in California celebrating the fact instead of being in my Georgia office. (The picture below was taken in January, when my nephew became an Eagle Scout.)

Mom's been lucky. She still lives in the home she bought with my dad 40 years ago. My brother rebuilt it in the last decade so it's better than ever, and she's gotten to watch her grandchildren grow up in it.

While she has had brief stays in rehabilitation facilities over the last years, she has stayed out of nursing homes, and I consider this the greatest blessing of all.

Nursing home companies like nothing better than bemoaning their fate. Many have been converted into real estate investment trusts, or REIT, in the last few years, under names like Ventas (VTR), Senior Housing Properties Trust (SNH) and, the largest of them all, Health Care REIT (HCN), which closed on the acquisition of Sunrise Senior Living early this year.

The new style of ownership seems to suit them. Senior housing is up 16% in the last year and yields 5.81% in dividends. HCN is up 11% this year and yields 4.51% in dividends. Ventas is up 9% and yields 3.78%.

Despite this, The Wall Street Journal wrote in May that other health care companies are shunning the group fearing steeper cuts to Medicare which, this time, might actually cut into profits.

Families for Better Care, a patient's advocacy group, calls the sector's profits "staggering" despite Medicare cuts that, in 2011, had the industry "reeling" and preparing to "cut expenses," according to National Real Estate Investor.

My good friend Martin Bayne, who has been in nursing care since 2002 due to Parkinson's, now runs the Voice of Aging Boomers from a facility near Allentown, Pa., and has lived the nightmare of nursing care.

After being interviewed by Terry Gross of Fresh Air last year, Martin told The New York Times early this year that new residents need a "welcoming committee" that will get them to reveal their passion, and jobs in the facility, even if it's just welcoming others, that return them a measure of dignity.

In the journal Health Affairs, Martin has written that nursing home companies have "a top-down management team whose initial goal seems to be to strip us of our autonomy," noting that most of his neighbors enter care after a terrible trauma, the loss of a spouse, a terrible disease or the onset of full-scale dementia.

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