County nursing home to review unusual number of deaths

URBANA — Champaign County Nursing Home officials say they intend to conduct a review of an unusually high number of deaths at the facility in the last few months.

"We've got to break down the data on our deaths to see if there's any specific trends, like if 30 out of 40 had pneumonia. Obviously that would be a trend, but I just don't have that information," nursing home manager Scott Gima told the county nursing home board of directors Monday night.

He promised to have a report from the facility's nursing department "in the next week or two."

The nursing home board was given two different sets of numbers for deaths at the home at Monday night's meeting. By one report, contained in a written account by Gima, there were 60 deaths in December, January and February.

But Gima said the home's administrator, Karen Noffke, reported that 42 people had died at the home between Dec. 1 and Monday. Of those deaths, Noffke said, 27 were hospice patients, one was on pallative care and 14 were more routine.

"The numbers are high, but they were expected because they were people on hospice," he said.

Gima noted that "we don't have good stats on hospice in previous months." Noffke was not at the meeting.

He said the number of hospice patients at the home has increased in recent months, although he did not offer any figures.

Between January and November last year, Gima said, the nursing home averaged 5.3 deaths a month.

In his written report to the nursing home board, Gima said "there were no patterns that would indicate a clinical or medical contributing component."

Gima said he did not believe the county coroner's office had been called to investigate the rash of deaths.

"I think this merits a really intense investigation very quickly," said board member Peter Czajkowski.

"The first thing to do is get in there and see if there was just an error in the data," said board member Robert Palinkas. "If there's no error, then it warrants figuring out what the phenomenon is."

Gima also said Monday that a respiratory-therapy program at the home has already been suspended after the therapist providing the service abruptly quit after "about two weeks." A replacement is being sought, he said.

The nursing home's census has dropped in recent months, board members were told, from about 205 in December to 195 in January to between 180 and 185 in February, Gima said. January's financial report for the facility showed a loss of $67,000 after profits in three of the previous four months.

Two county board members who also serve on the nursing home board said they hope for a prompt explanation of the deaths.

"It does feel like a spike in deaths," said Champaign Democrat Josh Hartke. "We need to chase this down and see if there's a connection or a cause."

Mahomet Republican Gary Maxwell said Monday's discussion was the first time the issue had been addressed by the nursing home board members.

"We'd like to know if there's a common thread to this," Maxwell said. "We very definitely need to look at this. We are looking for an explanation."

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