Nursing home board OKs food pact, despite some family members' concerns
URBANA — Members of the Champaign County Nursing Home board of directors approved an estimated $731,460 dietary services contract with a private company Monday night, but only after a quarrelsome exchange between two board members.
A contract with Healthcare Services Group of Pennsylvania, which began work at the publicly operated nursing home about three weeks ago, was approved after board members Don Lyn and Josh Hartke, who also is a Democratic county board member from Champaign, clashed over the quality of food service at the home.
Earlier in Monday's meeting, David Laker, who has a family member at the nursing home, told board members that he believes the food service has worsened in recent weeks.
"No improvement. It's worse than it was," Laker said. "It was improving. It went back downhill."
Later, Lyn echoed some of Laker's remarks, saying that meals were served two hours late at the nursing home this past weekend. He said his mother is a nursing home resident.
"I've been here almost every weekend for the last year and there just hasn't been any improvement," he told the other board members.
"I think we're all aware of that," interjected Hartke, "and I think your attitude again is, 'I caught you' when it happened over the weekend. Do you want to be successful or not? I don't think you do."
"Now wait a minute," said Lyn, "these are the people that are coming in with complaints."
"Wait, wait, wait," said board chair Cathy Emanuel. "Gentlemen, we are not going to have this. If you two want to discuss this outside of the meeting, that's OK, but this is not productive."
The two backed down.
Representatives of Healthcare Services Group pledged to improve the food service at the facility, but declined to give a deadline.
"To give you a definite timeline, I hate making any commitments that I can't fulfill, but we're hoping that by the end of August we see a positive directions," said Justin Schneider, a regional vice president with HSG.
The nursing home has been plagued by poor food service reports and ratings for years. In recent telephone surveys — the home contacts 15 randomly selected family members of residents every month for feedback — scores have improved, but the facility remains below the national average for food quality and dining service.
Nursing home manager Scott Gima estimated that having HSG provide food services would save the facility $58,000 over the next seven months.
"It's a flat rate and it covers all of our non-labor expenses. The direct line staff is still our expense. So they're basically at risk to cover everything at that rate. Based on my projections for our dietary costs, we're going to save at least that much," said Gima, who is employed by the Missouri-based management firm that oversees the home's operation.
In the past, all food service operations were done in-house, although the nursing home board has been looking to make a change for more than a year.
The contract has no end time, but it does have a 90-day opt-out clause that allows both sides to cancel after 120 days, with 90 days' written notice.
Also Monday, board members learned that the home's rating on a 5-star system by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services had improved again from 3 stars in April to 4 stars in June.
The higher rating doesn't mean more money or greater reimbursements, Gima acknowledged.
"It's good PR," he said. "Family members are starting to use the 5-star rating as a way to evaluate where they want to place their family members. And managed care organizations use (it to) determine whether they're going to have a nursing home in their provider network."