URBANA — If a proposed sale and closure of the former Champaign County Nursing Home, now the privately run University Rehab of C-U, is permitted by county and state officials, there would be 243 fewer nursing-home beds in Champaign County.

Remaining in the county, as of now, would be 360 beds at three nursing homes that accept patients on Medicaid, the government payer source that helps foot the bill for those who can’t afford it — Country Health Care & Rehab of Gifford, Champaign-Urbana Nursing & Rehab of Savoy and Illini Heritage Rehab & Healthcare of Champaign.

Urbana’s ClarkLindsey, which doesn’t accept Medicaid, currently has 38 Medicare-certified beds, along with 61 private-pay beds. ClarkLindsey plans to reduce those numbers to a total of 44 beds plus dozens of assisted-living and memory-care beds after a renovation, currently in progress, is completed.

A proposal to sell University Rehab of C-U to buyers who would operate it as a drug-treatment center is now before the county board, and is attracting opposition — some of it coming from those who fought the last sale of this facility three-and-a-half years ago.

University Rehab of C-U, 500 S. Art Bartell Road, U, had been the Champaign County Nursing Home until the county sold it in 2019 over the pleas of objectors who wanted the county to maintain ownership and responsibility.

The buyer and current owner, Evanston-based University Rehab Real Estate LLC, has asked the county board to agree to changes in restrictions and covenants that were included in the 2019 sale — including a requirement that the facility be maintained as a nursing home until 2028.

William Rothner, manager of University Rehab Real Estate, told the county board in a Sept. 28 communication that it’s exploring a sale of the facility to buyers who would operate it as a substance-abuse treatment facility.

The identity of the prospective buyer hasn’t been disclosed, but it’s not Rosecrance, a substance-abuse treatment agency currently serving the local area, according to Rosecrance spokeswoman Nancy Chamberlain.

Urbana city planner Kevin Garcia said the city was approached three to four months ago by a company looking to operate a drug-treatment facility at the University Rehab of C-U site. The company, which he didn’t identify, was told that it would need a special-use permit under current zoning laws.

Not the first time

In information Rothner sent to the county board, he said the 243-bed University Rehab has an average occupancy of 107.

Rothner also told the board there are, on average, 664 available beds at 18 nursing homes in Champaign, DeWitt, Douglas, Ford, Piatt and Vermilion counties — with the average number of available beds at Country Health Care & Rehab at 21, Champaign-Urbana Nursing & Rehab at 104 and Illini Heritage Rehab & Healthcare at 22.

Champaign County Health Care Consumers, an organization that vehemently opposed the county’s 2019 sale of the nursing home to its current owner, said Rothner and his family members have already been responsible for the loss of hundreds of nursing-home beds in Champaign-Urbana.

“Once the Rothners had entrée into the Champaign County community, via the purchase of the county nursing home, they proceeded to purchase and then shut down two other nursing homes in our community,” says a Health Care Consumers alert calling on the public to contact county board members to oppose the latest Rothner proposal.

Rothner and members of his family also became the new owners of the former Helia Healthcare of Champaign, at 1915 S. Mattis Ave., and the former Heartland of Champaign at 309 E. Springfield Ave., with both nursing homes subsequently being closed and sold.

If University Rehab is permitted to be sold and reused as a drug-treatment facility, “our community will have lost approximately 440 skilled nursing facility beds as a result of the Rothners’ property-flipping decisions,” Health Care Consumers said in its alert.

‘I was horrified’

Health Care Consumers Executive Director Claudia Lennhoff said she and her organization know that drug-treatment facilities are also needed. But she also recalled that the inclusion of restrictive covenants in the sales agreement of the former county nursing home were intended to prevent just the kind of scenario being proposed now.

“Every one of those covenants was fought for by the community because we wanted to protect Champaign County residents and we wanted to protect them from exactly this kind of scenario,” she said.

When she learned of the Rothner proposal before the county board, “I was horrified,” Lennhoff said.

William Rothner didn’t return calls from The News-Gazette on Friday or Monday.

Lennhoff also said expecting Champaign County residents to find vacant nursing-home beds in other counties would be a hardship for those residents and their family members because it would mean placing loved ones farther away from family members who could visit them and the hospitals where they’re accustomed to seeking care.

Democratic Champaign County Board Chair Kyle Patterson, who was against the sale of the former county nursing home to private owners, recalled proponents of the original sale saying the way to keep the nursing home open was to sell it.

Patterson is “adamantly opposed” to the sale proposed by Rothner now, he said Monday.

As baby boomers continue to age, there’s going to be a bigger need for nursing home beds, he said.

“The way I see it is this is the largest nursing home in this area, and I think the need for nursing homes is going to increase over the next decade or so,” he said.

Patterson said he’s already heard from several people in the community objecting to a change in the terms of the 2019 sale.

As for fellow county board members, he said, “the ones I’ve spoken to in my caucus are all opposed to it.”

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