Champaign County should insist on timely and accurate reports from the company it pays to manage its nursing home.
At last Monday's meeting of the Champaign County Nursing Home board of directors, the manager of the nursing home reported that there was a spike in deaths at the nursing home over a three-month period.
Nursing home manager Scott Gima, who works for the company paid by the county to manage the nursing home, told the board in his report that there were 60 deaths in December, January and February, way above the nursing home's average of 5.3 deaths per month. His report prompted nursing home officials to say they intend to conduct a review of the unusually high number of deaths at the facility in the last few months, and board members pressed the nursing home administration to determine if there was an unusual circumstance or cause.
Problem is, the report turned out to be to be inaccurate and needlessly alarming, and the incident raises questions.
First and foremost, why was Gima not better prepared for the meeting and able to provide accurate numbers about deaths? Surely he understood that a report of an increase in deaths would raise concerns among board members and the public.
Gima in fact also gave a conflicting set of numbers from the nursing home's administrator, Karen Noffke, who 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 palliative care and 14 were more routine. Noffke was not at the meeting.
Gima said that his inaccurate report of 60 deaths was the result of a "clerical error" and said there had been 41 deaths in the period in an email report to board members Friday. But how can the nursing home manager be so sloppy with information about an extraordinary number of deaths?
Secondly, why was Gima unable to provide any solid explanation for the spike in deaths? He apparently did not check with Illinois Department of Public Health or the office of Champaign County Coroner Duane Northrup, either of whom could have told him that a spike in deaths usually occurs during winter months, including this past winter.
Northrup said that he is not alarmed about an unusually high number of deaths at the nursing home and confirmed that the number was 42 between Dec. 1 and March 11, of whom 20 were hospice patients and 20 more were people 90 years old or older. The coroner, who by law must review every nursing home death in the county, also said he had not been contacted by the nursing home administration.
County board member Josh Hartke said Friday that based on the coroner's report, "I don't think there's any reason for the community to be nervous." He's right, but there's every reason for the county board and the community to expect accurate and timely information about the county nursing home, especially when it comes to such a serious issue as an increase in deaths. There's a consequence beyond public concern for the inaccurate information as well — the Illinois Department of Public Health is now investigating the nursing home.
Champaign County deserves better oversight from the company being paid to manage the nursing home. Management Performance Associates was not hired just to contain costs and maximize revenue, although that's certainly important and usually the central topic at nursing home board meetings, but also to ensure quality care at the nursing home. The county pays the company nearly $192,000 yearly to manage the facility, $122,000 in compensation for Noffke and roughly another $100,000 in other expenses.
The county and its citizens have made a huge investment in the nursing home. Reports about high numbers of unexplained deaths there are bound to hurt its reputation as a place that provides quality care for the loved ones of county residents.
The nursing home board and the county board should insist on timely, accurate and thorough reports that don't just throw out numbers without regard to the consequences.