'Business as usual' for are homes and residents
Care home operator Four Seasons - which has 58 homes in Northern Ireland - has been put on the market by its US owner.
US hedge fund H/2 Capital Partners, which is in effective control of the group, has put Four Seasons up for sale and swept aside the company's senior management, installing Baroness Margaret Ford and Mark Ordan on the board of directors.
It comes after the care homes giant, which is still nominally owned by Guy Hands' private equity vehicle Terra Firma, failed to pay off a portion of debt owed to H/2.
The business is Northern Ireland's biggest care home operator and has a mix of care homes and nursing homes.
A spokesman for the group in Northern Ireland said it was "business as usual" in Northern Ireland for its residents and their families.
As its principal creditor, the American hedge fund, run by Spencer Haber, now holds sway over the firm's assets and controls the group.
"These changes have been made in furtherance of an independent sales process and facilitate such a process taking place," Four Seasons said yesterday, adding that a "transparent arm's length sales process for the sale of all or substantially all of the assets of the group" is under way.
The move throws into doubt Four Seasons' long-term future, amid worries over its financial performance.
It has been stung by a cut in local authority fees, rising costs and the introduction of the national living wage, and the group has continuously warned over its long-term stability.
On top of this, Four Seasons is struggling under a £500m-plus mountain of debt, which is controlled by H/2 and other bondholders, who are also thought to have sanctioned the sale.
H/2, which has been attempting to restructure the business, has previously said it stands ready to take control of the care homes group, with Baroness Ford, former chairman of rival Barchester, lined up to become chairman.