Vermilion panel backs seeking voters' OK to sell nursing home

DANVILLE - Members of the Vermilion County Board's nursing home committee unanimously supported Tuesday night asking voters for the authority to sell the county-owned Vermilion Manor Nursing Home.

All but two of the county board's 27 members attended Tuesday night's all-committee planning session to discuss the future of the cash-starved nursing home that's struggling financially mostly due to late Medicaid reimbursements from the state. But only the nine members of the nursing home committee voted on the resolution that would allow county officials to put a question on the November ballot asking voters for the authority to sell the nursing home. That resolution will now be considered by the full county board at the next regular meeting June 12.

By state statute, the permission of voters is required for a sale, according to County Attorney Bill Donahue, because the creation of Vermilion Manor was originally authorized by referendum. Initially, county officials hoped also to consider asking voters for a tax increase but realized in the last few days that state law does not allow the county to increase its property tax levy cap for the nursing home beyond the current level of 10 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. If voters granted the authority to sell, any sale would still have to be approved by the county board.

One board member, Mike Dodge, D-District 7, spoke out against the resolution to ask voters for the right to sell. He said private companies are only interested in the bottom line when running nursing homes, and he is concerned about what a sale would mean for the high percentage of residents, about 70 percent, whose care at Vermilion Manor is paid by Medicaid.

"We're basically talking numbers tonight, not people," he said.

But county board Chairman Jim McMahon said the residents at the nursing home are what matters, and the board is considering asking for the authority to sell, because it cares about the residents.

"Tonight is a wake-up call. What will happen when there's no money to take care of them?" said McMahon, who told board members under current financial conditions, the facility will run out of money in about four to five months. He said the county could survive longer by borrowing from other county funds, if it had to do that.

Selling the nursing home, McMahon said, is saving the nursing home and not putting the question on the ballot is not the answer. McMahon said doing nothing and waiting until the nursing home runs out of money is not the way to run government and not the time to then ask voters for the authority to do something.

"We are being proactive and asking you and the public for the permission to do this before we run out of money," he said.

County Auditor Linda Lucas Anstey gave the board a financial update on Vermilion Manor, telling them that the facility has had a negative cash flow since Dec. 1, the beginning of the county's current fiscal year. And in April, she said, even if the state had paid what it owed the nursing home, it still would have had a negative cash flow. The state is behind in reimbursements to other county departments as well, including probation and the state's attorney's office and the public defender's office, which is cutting into the county's general fund balance.

Chris Leigh, R-District 1, is a member of the nursing home committee and said that Dodge's concerns could be addressed once the county has the authority to sell the nursing home. He said the idea that the facility would be closed and residents cast out is not the intent and would not be the case. He said the county board must watch out for the finances of the entire county, including funding of other areas that cannot be easily privatized as the nursing home can.

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