CHAMPAIGN — If Champaign County can't sell its financially strapped nursing home soon, the home will have to be closed, a state board was warned.
Some former and current county officials and local business leaders came to a public hearing Thursday in downtown Champaign urging that a planned $11 million sale of the nursing home be allowed to proceed, while a handful of opponents continued to express doubts about selling to the only taker.
The hearing was called to collect public comments for the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board, which will have the final say about the nursing home sale next month.
The board staff set aside four hours to hear comments both in the afternoon and evening, and the public will get still another chance to offer views for and against the sale at the Oct. 30 board session.
Among those urging the sale was Champaign County Treasurer John Farney, who said the county has robbed Peter to pay Paul to keep a nonmandated service afloat.
"Failure to complete the sale of the Champaign County Nursing Home will result in the closure of the home," he warned.
Retired county treasurer Dan Welch traced the first signs of financial trouble at the nursing home back to 2002, when the county began dipping into a depreciation fund that was depleted a few years later. That was followed by millions of dollars in loans to the nursing home from the county's general fund, most of which haven't been repaid.
Had this been a privately owned nursing home, it would have been bankrupt in 2009, Welch said.
County Auditor Diane Michaels said it has been a balancing act trying to absorb the nursing home's losses, and she warned about cuts likely to be on the way for multiple county services if the nursing home isn't sold.
The nursing home has been losing $75,000 to $100,000 a month, she said, and it barely met payroll this week.
"Clearly, we need to go forward with the sale," Michaels said.
Champaign County Health Care Consumers Executive Director Claudia Lennhoff urged waiting. And if county officials ultimately still want to sell, she urged them to find another buyer.
The buyers formerly identified for the nursing home, Evanston-based Altitude Health Services and Extended Care Clinical, aren't going to be the owners and managers of the nursing home, she pointed out. Two new companies were created last month to own and manage the county nursing home, University Rehab Real Estate LLC and University Rehabilitation Center of C-U LLC.
Altitude Health Services President William "Avi" Rothner — also identified as the manager of the new companies — certified in an Aug. 15 letter to the state board that there haven't been any disciplinary actions taken against any nursing home owned by University Rehabilitation Center of C-U during the three years prior to applying to the state board.
The new companies don't have a history of operating any nursing homes at all, Lennhoff said, but research done by her organization did find violations and adverse actions at other Rothner nursing homes.
While the county nursing home has suffered significant financial hardships, Lennhoff contended the census and Medicaid payments there have risen and, next month, Medicare will begin paying higher rates for rehab services — meaning a brighter financial picture could be ahead.
Fellow opponent to the sale Julie Watkins asked county officials for leadership and to listen to warnings from people contending the buyers can't be trusted.
"The nursing home is insurance for the whole community, and maybe we won't need it, but I'm sure glad it's there," she said.
Mary Schultz said her mother is a resident at the county nursing home, and she urged going ahead with the sale because it's no longer a choice between maintaining a privately owned nursing home and a publicly owned one.
"It's a choice between a privately owned nursing home and a shuttered one," she said.