ROCK ISLAND — County board members took the first step to sell Hope Creek Care Center on Wednesday during the committee of the whole meeting.
Board members unanimously approved advancing the matter to the June 18 regular meeting, asking County Administrator Jim Snider to solicit RFPs (request for proposal) for the county-owned nursing home at 4343 Kennedy Drive if the board approves it next week.
Snider said Hope Creek is now $7.5 million in debt, including $2.5 million owed to vendors and $3.4 million to the county, which has been making up for shortfalls out of the general fund.
"Times are challenging for nursing homes," Snider said. "This precarious situation at Hope Creek has reached a crisis. We operate under the daily pressure of finding ways of fending off threats from our vendors to cut our vital services.
"This home belongs to the taxpayers," Snider said. "A nursing home is a business. Some of the problems we are facing are going to be very difficult to overcome. We are over-relying on property-tax levies."
According to a report presented by Rock Island County Auditor April Palmer, Hope Creek had to borrow $207,000 to cover bond payments due June 1.
"Hope Creek is a top-notch facility," board member Ed Langdon said. "I am in favor of keeping Hope Creek as a county home."
The board's decision came after Scott Gima and Michael Scavotto of the consulting firm Management Performance Associates (MPA) delivered their report on Hope Creek in person to board members, advising them of possibility of turning the home around.
The firm was hired by the county in January at a cost of $29,000 for the three-month cost benefit analysis.
"I'm just going to cut to the chase," Gima said. "We state it on the front page of the report; Hope Creek is an obvious turnaround candidate. But it will not improve quickly enough to discharge debt.
"Your primary issue is a loss of (patients)," Gima said. "You'll have to take residents away from your competitors. You have to generate as much revenue as possible. We've been able to turn nursing homes around in your position."
Gima and Scavotto delivered the report following a 70-minute-long closed session during which staffing and personnel matters were discussed in private.
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If the county decides to maintain ownership of Hope Creek, Gima said it needs to put a cap on the number of patients using Medicaid and instead increase the number of patients using private-pay insurance or Medicare.
"You don't have the luxury of taking any more Medicaid patients," Gima said. "The focus has to be on private pay and Medicare. Assuming a private pay rate of $250 per day for a private room, five residents would generate about $500,000 a year.
"No matter the decision made by the county board, these issues still need to be addressed while you are deciding the future of the home. Beds still need to be filled and relationships still need to be built with the public."
Gima also advised board members to open up the closed wings of the facility and use them to bring in patients.
"When you have all these empty beds, you have to use them to your advantage," Gima said. "What families like having are private rooms. Take those closed wings and use them for Medicare rehab patients just discharged from the hospital or for hospice care.
"You have to get to a positive net income as quickly as possible. There are possibilities, but the financial hole is so deep," Gima said. "There are things the home can do to increase census; It takes time to build census."
Gima also advised getting rid of the agency that provides nursing staff.
"Agency use has to be reduced or eliminated," Gima said. "Agency use comes at a premium. That's the primary expense, period, that has to be addressed. You are literally living from payroll to payroll. Your margins are very thin."
Gima said he and Scavotto also spent a couple days talking with Hope Creek staff.
"Despite everything, the staff there is amazing," Gima said. "I've never seen a more cohesive group of department managers working under these conditions. Typically you see department managers infighting between each other. This group of managers really work well together and communicate with each other with the primary goal of taking care of those residents.
"The people who have to utilize nursing home facilities, say Hope Creek is the best facility in the county. The care that is being given on a day-to-day basis at that home is something all of you should be very, very proud of."