News Local/State

Champaign County Board Approves Call For Proposals From Potential Nursing Home Buyers

Newly sworn-in Champaign County Board member John Clifford.

Republican John Clifford is sworn in as a new Champaign County Board member Tuesday night by County Clerk Gordy Hulten. Clifford later joined fellow Republicans & three Democrats in voting to formally seek offers from potential buyers of the county nursing home. Jim Meadows/Illinois Public Media

Champaign County will soon be issuing a formal Request For Proposals from potential buyers of the Champaign County Nursing Home. On a thirteen to eight vote, including three yes votes from Democrats, the county board Tuesday night approved the next step towards a potential sale of the financially troubled facility.

County Board Chairman Pius Weibel voted against the RFP in October, but voted for it Tuesday night during a special meeting. Democrats Pattsi Petrie and Shana Jo Crews also joined the board’s nine Republicans in voting for the RFP, while eight other Democrats voted against it (Democrat Giraldo Rosales was absent). The Republican county board lineup included John Clifford, who had been appointed and sworn in to the county board earlier in the meeting, to fill the seat left vacant by Diane Michaels' appointment as auditor. 

Weibel says that since the October vote, the county board has approved a budget that only funds the nursing home for six months — and under those circumstances, he voted to authorize the RFP, because he wants to know what potential buyers will offer. But Weibel says the county board could still ultimately decide not to sell.

“It still takes 15 votes to sell the nursing home,” said Weibel. “It’s like, you know, if you put your house up for sale, and you don’t like the bids, well then, you take it off.”

But opponents argued that simply inviting bids on the nursing home would frighten away residents and staff, and hurt a financial recovery being managed by SAK, the management firm hired last year to run the facility.

Democratic County Board Member Kyle Patterson questioned the ability of a private for-profit operator to run the nursing home both profitably and well. He said that without the benefit of county tax funding, a private operator would have limited options to bring in more money, so operations would likely suffer.

“They’re going to cut staff, they’re going to cut quality of care,” said Patterson. “They’re not going to come in and do some kind of private industry magic voodoo and just cook the food differently and somehow the profit margin pops up. No, we know what they’re going to do. We’ve seen it done before.”

Patterson and other opponents of the RFP cited the former Vermilion County Nursing Home, located just outside Tilton. It was sold by the county in 2013 to a private operator, which surprised the county by laying off roughly one third of the staff. Last year, state Public Health officials fined the home — renamed Gardenview Manor — $50,000 for failing to take precautions against a resident’s fall that was cited as a factor in her death.

Opponents of a nursing home sale in Champaign County say their facility could suffer the same fate is sold. Meanwhile, some supporters of a sale contend only a private operator could have a chance of both keeping the nursing home financially viable and providing good care.

The county board is considering a nursing home sale because voters last year rejected a property tax hike for the facility and approved a referendum allowing the county board to consider selling it.

The RFP demands a minimum offer of eleven million dollars for the County Nursing Home. The buyer must run the facility as a nursing home for at least ten years, and give admission preference to Champaign County residents. The deadline for submitting offers is February 28.

Meanwhile, the Champaign County Board took other actions to help the County Nursing Home’s finances. Members voted overwhelmingly to extend the county’s loan to the nursing home, now at about $2.6 million. And they approved a new round of tax anticipation warrants for the facility, allowing the nursing home to borrow against tax revenue it is scheduled to receive in the future.