DANVILLE — Vermilion County Board members came just one vote shy Wednesday night of unanimously approving the sale of the county-owned Vermilion Manor Nursing Home to FNR Healthcare Group for $3.4 million.
Board Chairman Gary Weinard asked the 24 members in attendance at the special meeting to consider a unanimous approval as a sign of solidarity to the residents, families and staff of the nursing home.
But John Criswell, D-District 5, cast the lone "no" vote in the 23-1 tally. Members John Alexander, R-District 6, and Bill Wright, R-District 5, were out of town and attended by phone. Three others — Jim McMahon, D-District 9, Kevin Green, R-District 2 and Ed Barney, D-District 4 — were absent. McMahon has a very ill family member, and Green is out of the country.
FNR Healthcare Group is a private equity group involved in the acquisition of nursing homes, retirement centers, and ancillary companies serving the health care industry for more than 30 years. The group has a national portfolio valued at more than $1 billion and partners with Premier Healthcare Management to operate its facilities, including the ones in Gilman and Savoy.
In addition to the $3.4 million purchase price, FNR will immediately put $2 million of capital improvements into the facility on Catlin-Tilton Road that can trace its roots in the county back more than 100 years. In the last century, Vermilion Manor transitioned from what was generally known as the county poor farm into a modern-day long-term-care facility offering assisted living as well as skilled care to its residents, many of whom are dependent on Medicaid to pay their way.
With several board members expected to be absent Wednesday and a handful of others still on the fence about the sale, Weinard was concerned that the board would not have the 18 votes — or two thirds of the 27 members — necessary to approve the sale. But the only "no" came from Criswell, who also voted "no" last week as a member of the county board's nursing-home committee, which recommended that the board accept the offer from FNR, the highest bidder of five suitors.
Prior to the vote, Weinard told board members that times have changed as regulations in the nursing-home industry continue to expand and costs continue to rise while the county has no way to force more timely Medicaid and Medicare payments from the state and no way to generate enough local revenue to adequately run the facility. He said it takes a company with multiple facilities and deep pockets.
Tracy McCrae, the facility's administrator, also spoke to the board before the vote. She said more than a year ago, she was adamantly against selling the nursing home, but after working with county officials through the process of investigating the top two companies, she changed her mind. She said FNR and Premiere will bring badly needed resources, not only financial but also industry expertise and training. Without those types of resources, she said, the facility has always been on the back end of change.
"We are constantly playing catch up," she said, adding that emotionally, it's a tough decision for the employees, but logically, they know it's the right decision, and residents and employees will be better off.