News Local/State

Champaign County Board Quizzes Potential Nursing Home Buyers

Amy Fish, Avi Lothner and Ron Nuziato.

(L-R) Lancaster Rehabilitative Center director Amy Fish, Altitude Health Services President Avi Lothner and Extended Care Clinical CEO Ron Nunziato appear before the Champaign County Board in Urbana. Jim Meadows/Illinois Public Media

The Champaign County Board held a special meeting Wednesday night to hear from executives with two Evanston-based health care companies who have made an offer to buy the financially-strapped county nursing home.

Extended Care Clinical, LLC and Altitude Health Services have made a bid of $11 million --- the minimum sought by the county --- to acquire the nursing home in Urbana. They submitted the only response to the county’s request for proposals.

Avi Rothner of Altitude Health Services and Ron Nunziato of Extended Care Clinical answered questions from county board members for two hours Wednesday night. They were joined by Amy Fish, director of Lancaster Rehabilitation Center in Lincoln, Nebraska, a former county nursing home now run by Altitude health Services.

Topics included the two firms’ experience in running other nursing home facilities, how they would market the Champaign county facility and how they would balance the need to control costs with efforts to care for residents, most of whom are on Medicaid.

Rothner and Nunziato surprised some county board members by downplaying the federal government’s Medicare Star rating system, which gave low scores for some of their facilities.

Extended Care CEO Ron Nunciato says instead of relying solely on the Star rating system, they can learn about problems in their facilities more quickly and accurately by listening to those directly involved with it.

“So the families are going to be complaining”, said Nunziato, “the residents are going to be complaining, the staff will be complaining. And so, all those interactions add to, or detract from, depending on the operation, how well the facility is operating, from a quality-of-care perspective.”

The Champaign County Board will vote on the Altitude/Extended Care proposal at its May 24th regular meeting. Approval of the proposal require a 15 vote supermajority on the 22-member county board. So far, support and opposition has run roughly along party lines.

Democrat Stephanie Fortado opposes selling the county nursing home, and hopes it can stay in the county’s hands. She was annoyed when her question about a labor dispute at one of their facilities was dismissed by Lothner with the answer that Altitude only owned the nursing home building --- not the nursing home business inside.

“And what if, down the road, they decide to lease our building, right?”, asked Fortado. “What would the level of care be?”

Meanwhile, Republican Jim McGuire thinks Altitude and Extended Care could do a better job running the nursing home than the county has.

“They’re very patient-oriented, staff-oriented”, said McGuire. “They train. They have the resources to do just a much better job at taking care of nursing homes.”

McGuire and Fortado both served on a special committee formed to evaluate the offer from Altitude Health and Extended Care Clinical.

McGuire says he hopes county board members will cross party lines to discuss the nursing home question, and that some Democrats will join Republicans in approving the sale. Meanwhile, Fortado says she thinks the county could improve the nursing home’s financial picture on its own, if Democrats and Republicans can work together.