Guest Commentary: Much to consider in proposed sale of nursing home

Guest Commentary: Much to consider in proposed sale of nursing home

By BELDEN FIELDS

At its Jan. 9 meeting, the Champaign County Board decided to put the Champaign County Nursing Home up for sale. All Republicans voted for and were joined by three Democrats: Patsi Petrie, Shana Jo Crews and board Chair Pius Weibel.

Onslaught against the home

While some of us in the county have had direct experience with the home and prize it as a public asset with a very long history of caring for the most vulnerable and destitute, there has been an onslaught of negativity from the Republicans, The News-Gazette and county board Democrat Patsi Petri.

In April 2017, there was another referendum on the home. There was a more recent attempt by Gordy Hulten, the Republican county clerk who is now running to become the newly created county executive, to demonstrate that opinion in the mostly Democratic districts had shifted since last April in favor of selling the home. So he commissioned a telephone poll in which people who answered were told:

"As you know from published reports, the Champaign County Nursing Home is losing hundreds of thousands of dollars every month, and two residents died this year due to alleged negligence. To remedy the situation, the county board must now decide between cutting services — such as laying off police officers and eliminating some early voting locations — or selling the home to a privately funded company prepared to provide better care. We'd like to know whether you support or oppose the sale of the Champaign County Nursing Home in an effort to solve the problems?"

According to Hulton, about 53 percent responded that they favored sale. Note: this is a push-pull poll, one in which you first feed responders a lot of good or bad information and then ask them to respond in a way that you want them to. Moreover, those cuts might not be the choices that would be made if there were no sale. And why privilege a private company over a nonprofit one? Indeed, the sale of the public Vermillion County home to a private firm has not resulted in better care. That home has a one-star Medicare rating, lower than the two-star rating of the Champaign County Nursing Home. That did not stop Tom Kacich devoting a full-length article in The News-Gazette (11/12/17 to Hulton's push-pull poll. Indeed, between Kacich's reporting and The News-Gazette's anti-public nursing home editorials, it would be hard for people who rely on this as their news source to avoid feeling that the sky is falling on the nursing home and that privatization is the only savior, despite all the research findings that not-for-profit nursing homes are better than private ones.

Stipulations for the sale

The county board has been advised that it can reasonably expect $11 million for the home. That is the base price in its request for proposals to buy. But money is not the only stipulation. There are others, including: the purchaser must agree to maintain a skilled nursing facility with 220 beds until 2028, a set-aside for 10 years of 50 percent of the beds for Medicaid residents, and some employee retention provisions. Another provision is that the buyer would assume the existing collective bargaining agreement with AFSCME until the contract terminates at the end of 2018, but with no obligation for union recognition after that.

It would be preferable if the county would also: (1) seek out, or give priority to, nonprofit buyers because of their better records nation-wide; (2) exclude from consideration corporations engaged in "related property transactions" that do business only with their own separate companies for services (according to Kaiser Health News, quality of care is worst among this kind of private company, New York Times, 1/7/18, page 1 Business); and (3) exclude from consideration any buyers, private or public, whose nursing homes average less than a 2-star rating, which is the rating of our nursing home now.

We have to consider the welfare of the residents of our nursing home. Whatever the problems our home is presently confronting, we cannot in good conscience deliver the residents to a worse situation as a result of a sale. Fortunately, an actual sale would require affirmative votes by 15 board members, two more than just approved putting the home up for sale. If we reach a point where we advocates cannot prevent a sale, then at least we can pressure members of the board to act in the best interests of present and future residents.

Belden Fields is the chair of Friends of Champaign County Nursing Home.

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