Special meeting set on county nursing home

URBANA — Concerned about finances, governance and other issues, the Champaign County Board will hold a special study session Tuesday on the county nursing home.

The meeting will be at 6 p.m. at the Brookens Administrative Center, 1776 E. Washington St., U.

Champaign Democrat Pattsi Petrie said she asked for the study session last fall when there was talk about either leasing the nursing home or increasing property taxes for its support.

"I have no agenda here that we should go one way or another because I don't think any of us have enough data to make that kind of a decision," Petrie said, but she added that she has "a lot of questions," including whether the nursing home should provide, as proposed, an in-house renal dialysis program that could require hundreds of thousands of dollars in capital improvements.

"If we're thinking about doing dialysis to make money, why isn't everyone else doing it if it's such a lucrative thing?" she asked.

Petrie also is considering asking that the seven-member nursing home board of directors be expanded to nine members and that it include four members of the county board instead of just two.

Other county board members say they could support the idea.

"I think in the past we have had some problems getting communications from the nursing home board to the county board itself. So increasing the size of the nursing home board might improve communications," said Mahomet Republican Gary Maxwell, a member of both the county board and the nursing home board. "I'm not averse to putting a couple more (county) board members on there. The risk we do run is that we end up going back to the county board running the nursing home and we've pretty well proved that that didn't work out too well.

"That would be the downside of putting too many board members on that board of directors. The upside would be getting maybe some better communication back to the county board itself."

Urbana Democrat James Quisenberry said he "could support" expanded county board membership on the nursing home board.

"I believe that having a little more activity from county board members with the nursing home board would help," he said. "What I don't want to do is I don't want to go back to a situation where the county board is trying to be the nursing home board. We don't have that expertise. We have a nursing home board where people are appointed because of their specific skills."

But the county board, particularly its four new members, could use a review of the nursing home, its finances and its management, Quisenberry said.

Although the facility is in relatively good shape now, its private management firm has warned that the state's financial condition could make the nursing home's finances more precarious this year.

"This is to make sure that everyone on the county board has a certain level of depth of knowledge about what is going on and where we're at so that we can look at the long term future and make decisions. I don't think there is a will on this new board to make a major change. The desire is to make sure so people are informed so that as changes occur we're going down a path that we have spent some time on," Quisenberry said.

"We know the public wants Champaign County to maintain the nursing home, but by how much? What circumstances would affect that will? There are some people who would say no, we always have to do it, that it's an essential social service. And there are some people who want to treat it more like a business."

Champaign Democrat Josh Hartke, new to both the county board and the nursing home board, is a staunch supporter of the institution.

"Sure, I want to hear what the public and my fellow board members have to say. But I think it's very important that we maintain the nursing home, that it continues on its mission of providing the best care.

"I come to this from a different angle. Both my father and my grandmother died in nursing homes so it's kind of a personal thing to me. It's important to me that the care be maintained, that people have access to it, even the people without large financial reserves."

Hartke said the nursing home needs "to make enough money to be able to reinvest in its future. It seems to have turned around, in my opinion, and I look forward to what other people have to say."

Hartke said a new mission for the facility, "especially with the new health care act passed by Congress and supported by the Supreme Court, is that a lot of hospitals are going to want to send their patients out to nursing homes to recuperative care, rather than keeping them into the hospital. Hospitals are going to get fined if they have a lot of readmissions. So we're working on respiratory care and the dialysis units so we can provide more services and let hospitals know that we are the best place to send their patients because we won't be sending them back to them."

Maxwell, though, thinks county board members also need to be aware of potential funding sources should state reimbursements drop off or become severely delayed.

"If the state would lengthen its payment cycle to 180 days or so, every three months they delay paying us adds another $1 million to the cash we've got to carry," he said. "We could do fine or we might have a real problem on short order. It really depends upon the payments by the state. I want to discuss things to put in place if a financial emergency comes up."

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