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New Champaign Co. Nursing Home Admin Outlines Goals

(Editor's note: CU-CitizenAccess.org is taking an in-depth look at nursing homes in Central Illinois. Earlier this week, we sat down with Chuck Schuette, the new administrator for the Champaign County Nursing Home to discuss his plans to tackle the challenges facing the county's nursing home (see interview below). For more on this project and interactive tools you can use to evaluate nursing homes in your area, tune in to Illinois Public Media or visit CU-CitizenAccess.org on Monday, Dec. 5. Want to be part of the project or have a story to share about a nursing home experience in East Central Illinois? Contact reporters Dan Petrella or Pam G. Dempsey)

For Effingham native Chuck Schuette, running a nursing home has always been the plan.

So when he saw the chance to oversee a nursing home, he took it.

Schuette, the new Champaign County Nursing Home administrator, started his new job Oct. 31. He replaced Andrew Buffenbarger, who served as the County Nursing Home administrator since 2004.

Schuette, 59, worked as the chief nursing officer for 24 years at St. Anthony's Memorial Hospital in Effingham.

"Coming from an acute-care background, I did get some experience, because at the hospital we developed a skilled-care unit and in regards to that, I went and got my long-term care nursing home license (in 1995)," he said. "I kept it all these years with the idea that one day I would go into long-term care."

Schuette has his work cut out for him.

Like other nursing homes in the area, the Champaign County Nursing Home has faced several challenges in recent years: late payments from the state, numerous complaint investigations by the Illinois Department of Public Health and difficulty in managing staff retention.

The nursing home is also rated overall two out of five stars on a federal Medicare compare site (see http://www.medicare.gov/NHCompare). The overall federal rating is a combination of the health inspection rating, the staffing rating, and the quality measures rating.

A little more than three years ago, the Champaign County Board contracted with Management Performance Associates, a St. Louis-based firm, to provide day-to-day management oversight for the operation of the nursing home, said Deb Busey, Champaign County administrator.

Since the contract began in 2008, the nursing home's finances improved, as had its patient count, county officials said. The County Board renewed its contract with the management firm in June.

Buffenbarger is moving to a new position within Management Performance Associates.

Schuette (pronounced shoot-y) said that while this is his first job heading a nursing home, "I am excited, enthused and happy to be here."

"The big difference in acute care is you only see the patients three or four days max," he said," and here people are here for the rest of their lives, for many cases. That is really an advantage. You really get to know the people and know the families and it's kind of a community."

In the transition from acute care to long-term care, Schuette said the largest "culture shock" comes from the delay in state reimbursement payments.

"It should be fine, but it's scary," Schuette said. "I think about it constantly, 'Are you going to have enough money?' "

But with other nursing homes facing similar pressure, "somehow they get through it, and I'm going to learn how they get through it over the next few months."

His to-do list is long. One of his priorities includes bolstering the nursing staff.

"Nurses just aren't being valued for what they really are and what they can offer people, and I want to try and make sure that is sensed here and the nurses feel that here and hopefully nurses will say, 'This is where we want to work,' " Schuette said.

The staffing level at the nursing home is "higher than what is required for regulatory compliance," he said, and he hopes to keep it that way.

"We're maintaining that and keeping it at a higher level of staffing," Schuette said. "Will we then be forced to go down to minimum regulatory standards? I'm getting the sense we won't have to go in that direction. ... We'll probably never drop down to minimum staffing levels."

Resident safety is another priority.

"We want to make sure we endeavor to be regulatory compliant," he said. "This is a heavily regulated industry and for good reason, it needs to be that way. We're talking about the safety of our residents. I want to really work on that, to make sure that each and every time we are surveyed, that we are actually reducing the number of tags and that we are really spending a lot of time making sure we are in compliance and our residents are safe."

Schuette has spent the past 10 days settling into the job and says he'll develop more goals and strategies over the next three months.

"I think we have the things here to do it and do it well," he said. "It's going to take leadership ... my real job is trying to be a leader and motivate people to a higher performance. That's what I hope to do."

(Produced by Sean Powers/WILL)