Patient advocates back county ownership of nursing home

 

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CHAMPAIGN — Selling the Champaign County Nursing Home could lead to staff reductions, poorer care and service cuts, a group of advocates for medical patients and retirees contended.

Gathering less than a week before voters will be asked to weigh in on two public policy questions — whether they support selling or disposing of the financially ailing nursing home or a tax increase to help keep it going — the Illinois Alliance for Retired Americans, Champaign County CARE, Champaign County Health Care Consumers and others Wednesday urged voters to get behind the option that will keep the nursing home in the county's hands.

Research from Center for Medicare Advocacy, Kaiser Family Foundation and others have demonstrated that nursing home ownership matters when it comes to patient care and staffing levels, said Champaign County Health Care Consumers executive director Claudia Lennhoff.

"For-profit facilities, particularly those owned by multistate chains, are more likely to reduce spending on care for residents and to divert spending to profits and corporate overhead," the Medicare center said in a report. "While the research findings do not necessarily apply to an individual nursing home — some for-profit nursing facilities give excellent care and some not-for-profit nursing facilities give poor care — the general rule is documented in study after study. Not-for-profit nursing facilities generally provide better care to their residents."

A 2011 analysis of the 10 largest for-profit nursing home chains found they had the lowest staffing levels and highest levels of deficiencies between 2003 and 2008, Lennhoff said.

She also said a new owner — especially a larger and/or for-profit one — who would fill more beds at the nursing home, even increasing the Medicaid census in the process, could be a "recipe for disaster."

Not everyone who enters nursing homes begins on Medicaid, Lennhoff said. Some people enter under their own resources, but quickly run out of money then apply for Medicaid help, she said.

Medicaid is the largest payer for nursing home care, and in Illinois it's also the worst payer, Lennhoff said.

"Adding more patients does not solve that problem," she said.

Cathy Emanuel, a member of the nursing home advisory board and Friends of Champaign County Nursing Home, recalled she once thought the nursing home shouldn't be county-supported and changed her mind after getting involved and learning more. This nursing home has programs and services that others don't offer, she said, and families are happy with the care there.

Nursing home employee Evelyn Thomas said some of the employees have worked there long-term.

"People stay because we enjoy what we do," she said.

Barbara Franklin of Rantoul, president of the Illinois Alliance for Retired Americans, said keeping the nursing home open is personal for her because her parents were residents there.

"I know that my parents had excellent care because the nursing home cares about its residents," she said.

Lennhoff said Champaign County doesn't have to look any farther than neighboring Vermilion County to see what can happen when a county disposes of its nursing home. After the county sold its Vermilion Manor Nursing Home to FNR Healthcare Group in 2013, the county was caught by surprise when 39 employees were cut by the new owner, she said.

Now called Gardenview Manor, the Danville nursing home was hit by the Illinois Department of Public Health in January for two "type A" violations, which mean "a substantial probability that death or serious mental or physical harm will result or has resulted" in the past three months.

Reporter

Debra Pressey is a reporter covering health care at The News-Gazette. Her email is dpressey@news-gazette.com, and you can follow her on Twitter (@DLPressey).