URBANA — Champaign County Board members are discussing whether to look into hiring a new management firm for the county nursing home.
The county's contract with Management Performance Associates of Chesterfield, Mo., which is being paid more than $277,000 this year to manage the nursing home, ends next June.
Although county board members have expressed some concerns about MPA in recent months — over financial losses, poor food service scores and the way a surge in deaths at the facility was reported last winter — county board member Gary Maxwell said an investigation of other management options wasn't a sign of dissatisfaction with the firm.
"I believe that occasionally you need to reopen these contracts and make sure that we have the right contract and the right manager in place. It's time to do that," said Maxwell, a Mahomet Republican who is a member of both the nursing home's board of directors and the county board. "These folks have been on board now for four or five years. I think it's only prudent for good management, from the county board level and the board of directors level, to occasionally go out to review proposals from other management groups. We're not foreclosing that MPA won't be rehired; we just want to take another look."
The board of directors will "review MPAs performance in the fall," he said. "And I believe there is a general consensus building that we'll probably go out for requests for proposals, at least to take a look at a new management team or rehiring MPA."
Republican board members, at a caucus meeting Thursday, indicated that they were concerned about financial losses at the nursing home. It reported a net loss of $187,000 in May and has had net losses totalling $50,000 in four of the last six months.
"This thing is going to be constantly hounding us," said Sadorus Republican Jonathan Schroeder. "It's not going to get any better."
Added Rantoul Republican Stan James: "We know it's going to be headed for trouble. We've been told it's gong to be headed for trouble. The state is going to have funding issues, and once this Obamacare kicks in, it's going to change the whole scope of things."
County board members and the nursing home's board of directors have scheduled a July 29 study session to update the institution's strategic plan and list of goals, and to discuss the possibility of bringing in experts to assess the future of health care and nursing homes, Maxwell said.
He said he didn't believe county board members were interested in selling the nursing home, as the Vermilion County Board did last month with its facility.
"I don't see any will yet on the part of the county board in general to get out of the business. I think they're generally committed to doing the very best job we can, and to give the best patient quality available with what we have to work with," Maxwell said.
But because of changes coming in health care management, he said, "eventually the community might want to decide what the real place of the nursing home is."
Champaign Democrat Pattsi Petrie said "the elephant in the room is selling the place."
"Right now," she said, "I am not on board toward selling until we see how Obamacare plays out — this is a major unknown."
James said county board members need to look at the long-term future of the home.
"I was an advocate for three to five years, if this thing doesn't turn around, then we start looking at options. How long do you let it limp? Ten years? Fifteen years? We've got to get something out there that says, 'This is our plan,'" James said.
In recent months, Maxwell noted, admissions at the county nursing home have been up — June was a record month with 38 — but deaths and discharges for the month totalled 31.
"I think that's going to be the trend. The emphasis is to empty out the nursing homes and the hospitals, to get people to return to their home settings as fast as possible," Maxwell said. "I think we're seeing that already.
"Long-term, the home is going to end up with people who require greater care, those that remain with us on a monthly basis will be sicker and more costly. That's one of the changes coming down that we're going to have to be aware of and we'll have to figure out strategies to cope with this."
In the short term, he said, nursing home board members will be examining the facility's food service, which manager Scott Gima acknowledged in a memo "has been sub-par.
"This department has seen multiple deficiencies in each of the last two (Illinois Department of Public Health) and local (Champaign-Urbana Public Health District) annual surveys."
Monthly satisfaction surveys also showed poor results, Gima said, and the problem peaked earlier this month when Maxwell was contacted by a member of the public who said that her mother had not received a meal.
"Food service is one of the issues. At all nursing homes, it seems that food service is one of the sticking points," Maxwell said. "And our home has struggled with it for quite a while."
But there are "other issues" of concern at the nursing home, he acknowledged, including financial reporting and filling top-level positions. The facility has been looking for a permanent director of nursing for months.
"We simply can't find some of these people," Maxwell said.