It’s impossible to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.
All signs indicate that the former Champaign County Nursing Home is going to close and that nothing — either politically or financially — is going to stop that from happening.
The question now is how to make the best out of a regrettable situation.
In an April 17 letter, the owner of what is now the University Rehabilitation Center of C-U informed the state’s public health department that the facility will close June 17.
The letter stated a variety of factors over the past three years have combined to make the facility a money loser that can’t even afford to pay its property taxes.
The facility cited “less demand for beds, shorter post-acute stays and a low Medicaid reimbursement rate” as reasons for its 65 percent vacancy rate.
This issue has a long, ignominious history. Champaign County Board members struggled for years to keep the taxpayer-supported facility afloat, throwing good money after bad in ill-advised efforts to keep the nursing home open.
Finally, the board in 2018 reluctantly agreed to sell to its current owner — William “Avi” Rothner.
No one makes an $11 million investment to lose money. It seems obvious. Rothner started with high hopes that simply have not been realized and cannot be sustained.
Unrealistic members of the county board seem to harbor the belief that they could force the facility to remain open no matter how large future losses are. They made that clear back in October, when they emphatically rejected the owner’s request to change a restrictive covenant in the sales agreement that requires the facility to be used exclusively as a nursing home until 2028.
“For our community, we need this nursing home,” one defiant board member said.
The board’s problem is that the marketplace rules. For-profit ventures will not operate indefinitely if they’re losing large sums of money.
The question now is whether the board will approve a covenant change that allows a sale of the property at 500 S. Art Bartell Road, U. A prospective buyer wants to use it as a substance-abuse treatment center.
Some may find that distasteful. But at least the facility would — at least theoretically — pay property taxes.
There is no question that nursing homes face serious challenges in providing quality care and making a profit.
University Rehab’s letter of closure said current trends “indicate that our seniors are staying home longer, with those discharged from the hospital returning home and receiving outpatient services or home health.”
If that is the case, it reflects a decline in demand that would explain, at least in part, the 65 percent vacancy rate.
There is no question that many community members, including some on the county board, have made a Herculean effort to keep this facility in operation.
But wishful thinking is no substitute for economic reality. University Rehab’s request to modify the current covenant at least salvages something positive out of the planned closure.
County board members should take what they can get, and console themselves with the thought that they did as well as can be expected under the current circumstances.