Incredible divide on nursing home

Incredible divide on nursing home

The Champaign County Board's handling of the nursing home controversy is taking on other-wordly features.

Those who are conflicted in their view or have no opinion on the future viability of the county nursing home need only look at the latest budgetary contortions the board has put itself through.

Last week, in what can only be described as an act of desperation, the board voted 13-8 to fund the financially beleaguered nursing home for six months. The board's majority opted for that questionable course as a means of avoiding a decision on how to cut $1.4 million in spending needed to support the county's statutorily mandated programs so it could continue to fund the purely optional nursing home.

If this isn't a case of the tail wagging the dog, it's darn close.

Further, there appears to be a widespread consensus among board members that this proposal is being held together with bailing wire and chewing gum and might fly apart with the slightest of nudges.

There's the little matter of a $500,000 loan repayment the nursing home is supposed to make to the county's general fund in December. The nursing home's cash balance is down to $19,000, according to county administrator Rick Snider, so how good are the nursing home's chances of meeting that obligation?

Perhaps that's why there has been discussion about the need to issue tax anticipation warrants — a bank loan to be repaid when eventual revenue generated by property tax payments comes in.

The nursing home has all the earmarks of a failing enterprise. Yet to hear some board members talk, the idea of selling or closing the nursing home is unthinkable.

"In my mind, (the county's obligation) never ends because care for the elderly and the people in the nursing home, it never ends. We can talk all we want about kicking the can down the road, but in my mind, there's no can to kick. It's about care for folks who need care, and that's something that's not going to end in this county," said Democratic board member Josh Hartke.

Hartke's words are sincere, but misguided.

If the county nursing home was the only such facility in Champaign County or beyond, there might be some merit to that holier-than-thou position. But there are plenty of private facilities, where current county nursing home residents can go.

Indeed, if there wasn't strong competition from the private sector, the county wouldn't have encountered the seemingly endless problem of not having enough nursing home patients needed to generate the revenue necessary to keep it financially afloat.

So what, in fact, is the county board doing other than playing financial Russian roulette regarding an optional service for which there is limited demand but back-breaking costs.

The vote on the half-year budget for the nursing home was 13-8. Ten Republicans and three Democrats voted for the half-year budget. Ten Democrats voted against it, apparently preferring to proceed with the $1.4 million in budget cuts in the general fund.

The partisan divide is obvious. So, once again, the question is why Democrats and Republicans are divided on an issue where the numbers are so clear?

If the 10 Democrats see their unyielding stance on keeping the nursing home open as a sign of theirmoral superiority or monopoly on compassion compared to heartless Republicans, they're kidding themselves.

It is neither a sign of superior judgment nor of superior virtue to preside over a budgetary conflagration on the operations side of county government just to maintain a nursing home that, sooner or later, is going to run out of money.

The nursing home is performing poorly this month, and its circumstances seem certain to be even worse in the months to come.

Being optimistic or hopeful about a turnaround could be construed as a virtue. But maintaining that kind of defiant attitude in the face of all the available evidence is an unforgiveable vice for those who are entrusted, like county board members are, with being careful stewards of the public's money.

If past is prologue, those words will fall on deaf ears. The board's nursing home backers appear so adamant that no set of facts can change their minds.

But hope springs eternal. If the facility's die-hards can cling to the notion that its recovery is just around the corner, so, too, can dissenters embrace the minimal possibility that they might eventually be persuaded otherwise.

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