URBANA — The manager of the Champaign County Nursing Home, after earlier this week reporting a spike in deaths at the facility this winter, now says he doesn't believe there is a problem at the county-owned property.
Updating death reports and quoting from a report by county Corner Duane Northrup, the manager of the nursing home, Scott Gima, told nursing home board members in an email Friday that "I think you will conclude that CCNH does not have a problem with an inordinate number of deaths."
The News-Gazette reported Wednesday that Northrup said he was not alarmed about the number of deaths at the nursing home, saying that many of the fatalities were hospice patients and that the number of deaths countywide this winter was above the norm.
Northrup said he reviewed the dates and times of death for the nursing home residents and found nothing out of the ordinary. He also said there were no unusual circumstances "that really piqued us and said, 'Hey, we need to go look at this death' or anything. There were all kinds of different causes of death. It was all over the board."
At a nursing home board meeting last Monday, Gima said there may have been as many as 60 deaths at the facility in December, January and February. By contrast, between last January 2012 and November 2012 the nursing home had averaged 5.3 deaths per month.
But in Friday's email he said there had been 41 deaths during the three-month period. He attributed the discrepancy to "a clerical error."
"The numbers in this (report) are accurate and have been confirmed by the coroner. The coroner has stated that there is a countywide historical pattern of more deaths occurring during the winter months," Gima wrote.
Reviewing data for the last three years, Gima noted that deaths at the nursing home peak during winter months. In December 2010 there were 11 deaths there, almost twice as many as the monthly average that year of 6. In November 2011, there were 13 deaths, above the average that year of 7.8 deaths per month. In December 2012, there were 15 deaths, more than double the average of 6 deaths per month that year.
So far this year there were 11 deaths in January and 13 in February, Gima said.
He wrote that "nothing in the statistics indicates that CCNH has a problem. This conclusion has been independently confirmed by the county coroner."
Nonetheless, he told nursing home board members that the Illinois Department of Public Health is now investigating the nursing home.
"On Tuesday morning," Gima wrote, "IDPH arrived at CCNH to conduct a complaint investigation unrelated to (the Tuesday story in The News-Gazette about the nursing home deaths). But by Tuesday afternoon, they began asking for a list of non-hospice deaths since Dec. 1, 2012. The investigation is ongoing."
The public health department confirmed Friday that a probe is under way, based on News-Gazette stories.
Gima also said that a letter will be sent to "all residents/families regarding the issue."
Meanwhile, nursing home board members said Friday they were pleased to read Gima's report.
"I think the report shows there really wasn't an issue there, and I'm happy about that," said board chair Catherine Emanuel.
Two county board members who also serve on the nursing home board said they viewed the report positively.
"I think it's a good start on answering some of the questions we had Monday night at the board meeting," said Mahomet Republican Gary Maxwell.
He said he was not concerned about the state investigation into the deaths.
"It seems to me that everyone is doing their jobs. All of us are interested in making sure we have good patient care there," said Maxwell.
Maxwell said he stressed to Gima "the importance of being prepared. When these anomalies pop up we need to be able to explain them in a timely manner."
Champaign Democrat Josh Hartke said "the coroner's report pretty much clears it up in my opinion, that the entire county saw an increase in death rates in those months" and that the number of hospice patients was up.
Like Maxwell, he said that "when we're talking about deaths in the nursing home, it would be best to have the numbers exactly straight," but he noted that Gima is not the on-site administrator at the nursing home.
"There could be better lines of communication, but I think it's pretty obvious that there isn't an issue with deaths at the nursing home," Hartke said. "I think the number of reported deaths should be more clear before it gets put into a packet, but I think it was quite clear at the meeting Monday that Scott was unsure on his numbers and he promised to get back to us immediately."
Hartke added, "I don't think there's any reason for the community to be nervous."