County nursing home for sale

URBANA — Champaign County Board members voted Tuesday night to put the county nursing home up for sale.

By a margin of 13-8, with Democrats Pattsi Petrie, C. Pius Weibel and Shana Jo Crews joining all 10 Republicans, the board voted to issue a request for proposals from private operators to purchase the county-owned facility in east Urbana. Champaign Democrat Giraldo Rosales was absent from the meeting.

Weibel, chair of the county board, said he voted for the sale because continuing to operate the nursing home for a full year would threaten other parts of county government.

“If we were to keep the nursing home, we’d be struggling to find money for it,” he said. “It’s money. We don’t have the money to do it. Either we keep the nursing home going or we lay off other people.”

The vote came after about 45 minutes of public input from opponents and supporters of selling the nursing home, including nursing home advisory board member Cathy Emanuel, who said that there are “positive trends” at the facility and that the county could increase its value by keeping it open.

But Republican former county board member Scott Tapley contended the home has lost money for years and would continue to do so.

Jennifer Putman, a 30-year veteran of the county board, attended both the Republican and Democratic caucus meetings to plead with board members to not sell the home.

“The ship is turning around,” Putman told the Democratic caucus. “We can continue to allow SAK (the private manager of the home) to turn the nursing home around and see the positive results that would come from keeping our public nursing home public.”

‘Do the math’
But an updated report from County Auditor Diane Michaels, distributed to board members Tuesday, said the nursing home now owes more than $5.5 million to vendors and to the county government, an increase of more than $375,000 from a month earlier. It owes $2.8 million to outside vendors and $2.7 million to various county accounts, Michaels said.

Following the public input, board members debated the sale for another 50 minutes.

“If you’re voting for a for-profit nursing home, you are voting to exploit staff members that are currently part of our county class,” said Champaign Democrat Stephanie Fortado. “This idea that we somehow have to choose between the financial solvency of the county and selling the nursing home is not accurate.

“We could, if we all worked together, come up with actual solutions. I just think that we haven’t been willing to.”

Mahomet Republican Jim Goss said that it costs about $100,000 each day to operate the county government, “and we’re down to $3.2 million” in the county general fund.

“Do the math. Thirty-two days. That’s what it is,” he said. “Because we have given away two-and-a-half million dollars.”

But Champaign Democrat Kyle Patterson argued that the nursing home provides a valuable service to the community.

“I’m sick and tired of this discussion of losing money,” he said. “Do we go, ‘Oh, no, tonight we’re going to lose $3,000 to the state’s attorney’s office and all we got out of it was expert testimony in three child-abuse cases?’”

Mahomet Republican Brooks Marsh said he believed “you can get better care from a private home than we’re giving them today in this home.”

Terms of sale
Under the terms of sale, the minimum bid for the nursing home would be $11 million, and any proposals for the purchase would be due by Feb. 28.

A timeline listed in the request for proposals says that the sale process would be completed by May 1.

Among the terms for any sale of the nursing home:

— It would require “yes” votes from at least 15 members of the 22-member county board.

— The purchaser must agree to maintain a skilled nursing facility with 220 beds, and any additional permitted uses are limited to a geriatric center, long-term-care facility or assisted-living facility. The restrictions would remain in place until Dec. 31, 2027.

— The purchaser would assume the existing collective-bargaining agreement between the nursing home and the AFSCME union.

— The purchaser must agree to rehire all existing employees who pass a background check, not terminate 10 percent or more of the employees within the first 60 days following the closing date and not 20 percent or more of the current employees during the first six months after the closing date, all at their current salary levels with benefits similar to those currently received.

— Priority for admissions would be given to Champaign County residents for 10 years. Bidders would also have to “address future admissions policies” and would have to “set aside a minimum of 50 percent of the licensed long-term facility beds to Medicaid payees” for at least 10 years.

— The purchaser would have to spell out how it would “work with and be accountable to the community.”

Loans OK’d
In October, the county board voted down a motion to issue a request from private companies for the purchase of the home. The move failed, 11-11, with Petrie and the 10 Republican board members voting for it and all 11 other Democrats voting against it.

Last April, voters gave the county board authority to sell the nursing home by a margin of 54 percent to 46 percent. But Democrats have contended that voters in their districts opposed selling the home while mostly rural, Republican voters supported the idea.

Following the vote to put the home up for sale, the board quickly approved issuing about $1 million in tax-anticipation warrants to help cover retirement-fund costs for nursing home employees, and to renew $500,000 in loans from the county general corporate fund to the nursing home.

Also Tuesday night, the board seated John Clifford of Rantoul to succeed Michaels as a county board member representing District 2 in the northeast quadrant of the county.

tkacich@news-gazette.com

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