URBANA – It doesn't take long to see the benefits the kids in the Champaign County Nursing Home child care center bring to residents.
As the 2-, 3- and 4-year-olds walk down the hallways of the nursing home, they invariably bring big smiles to the faces of the residents, most of them sitting in wheelchairs or using walkers.
Ninety-year-old Lena Lewis, a longtime Urbana resident who moved into the home about two years ago, said the children are a delight to her.
"You remind me of my great-granddaughter," she tells one 3-year-old blonde-haired girl, while playing peek-a-boo with her.
"They sure do have lots of energy," Lewis said, "especially when they get out there and dance in the middle of the dining room."
Three-year-old Bryant Shaw draws a number of comments from residents, all of them about the Superman pajama top he's wearing, complete with a red cape.
While no one disputes its benefits, the child care center's future is in doubt. That's because the center, which currently oversees 13 children and babies, had a cash loss – salaries and benefits compared to income – of $87,000 last year. The center had an operating loss – including the costs of food, supplies, maintenance, depreciation, utilities and accounting – of $117,000.
In the past five years, the nursing home and the county general corporate fund have had to cover $412,000 in losses at the child care center. From 1992 to 2005, the losses total $945,000.
Combine that with the fact that the nursing home lost $902,000 in fiscal 2005 – depleting the its financial reserves – and the dilemma the Champaign County Board faces is clear.
The county board had to lend the nursing home about $400,000 last year from its general corporate fund to keep it solvent.
"(The child care center is) not something we want to close down, but if we can't improve the situation, we have to consider our options," said Brendan McGinty, D-Urbana, the board's Finance Committee chairman.
McGinty's committee will discuss the child care center, its finances and possible options at its meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday in the Brookens Administrative Center, 1776 E. Washington St., U.
Nursing home administrator Andrew Buffenbarger said there's no question the child care center benefits both the children and residents.
"There are so many benefits to the residents as a result of the child care center, the benefits tend to outweigh the costs," he said.
A number of ideas have been considered. One is to look into partnering with the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District to see if employees there might want to use the child care center, which is open to the general public as well as county employees.
County board Chairwoman Barbara Wysocki, D-Urbana, said she's contacted public health officials about the concept and is awaiting a response.
Other ideas, Buffenbarger said, include keeping the child care center in the existing nursing home after residents are moved to the $20 million, 243-bed facility nearing completion on the Brookens campus.
The children could be brought to visit the nursing home during the day, and the space currently set aside for the nursing home "could be used more profitably," he said.
Two concepts raised at the Finance Committee meeting in February were to use the child care center space in the new nursing home for an outpatient therapy clinic and a county employee wellness center. No decision was made.
Finance Committee member Scott Tapley, R-Champaign, said the county's "back is against the wall."
"Now that our (nursing home) fund balance is zero and the nursing home is borrowing $400,000 from other county funds and running annual deficits, it's becoming difficult to justify continuing the operation of a child care center losing $100,000 a year," Tapley said.
But board member Steve Beckett said the county board promised voters they would retain the child care center when they asked in 2002 for property tax increases to build the new nursing home and to help pay for employee benefits.
Beckett said he couldn't support closing the child care center until the new nursing home is given a chance to correct its financial situation.
Child care center Director Karen Foster said that because the county pays a living wage and also provides health care and pension benefits, its employee costs are higher than private day care facilities. Foster herself makes a $49,000 salary.
Foster also said that the average age of nursing home and county employees is 40 years and 42.5 years, respectively, meaning there are less county employees using the child care center.