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Positive changes: County nursing home makes improvements 3 months after recommendations

Pantagraph - 7/12/2018

July 12--NORMAL -- Three months after a blue-ribbon panel made recommendations to improve the financially struggling McLean County Nursing Home, several changes have been made with more in the works.

Since April:

* Four of 78 resident rooms have been converted from semi-private to private.

* A hospital nurse liaison has been hired to assist with placements in the nursing home.

* The nursing home has become a part of OSF HealthCare's skilled care network to facilitate referrals.

* 13 full-time clinical employees have been hired to replace all temporary contract staff.

Discussions continue for the nursing home to become a part of Advocate Healthcare's skilled care network and the three nurses' stations will be remodeled by the end of the year to make them more user friendly and accessible.

Long-term, Administrator Cindy Wegner's plans include converting 22 more rooms to private rooms, expanding and updating the therapy room and changing the name of the county nursing home.

But, for now, Wegner, County Board Chairman John McIntyre, panel members and some residents are pleased with the progress.

"I feel that we have got a lot done very quickly based on the committee's (panel's) recommendations," Wegner said Wednesday following a walk through the nursing home at 901 N. Main St. in Normal.

"We've made some positive changes," Wegner continued. "The residents are taking notice and the families are extremely complimentary.

"I think some people forgot the county (nursing home) was here and they are starting to take notice again," she said.

"I've been very pleased," McIntyre said. "We're still in the early stages, but we've already seeing some results."

"There have been some significant upgrades in the facilities ..." added panel member AJ Querciagrossa, president of OSF Home Care and Post-Acute Services. "The leadership team from the county as well as the administrator and staff are doing an incredible job on the action plans."

Billy Smith, 90, a retired engineer who lived in Bloomington for 65 years before moving to the nursing home about a month ago, said "So far I've been rather satisfied with it."

Smith said changes happening at the nursing home "sound great."

The nursing home is a 150-bed facility with 100 beds certified for Medicare or Medicaid residents and 50 for private pay or Medicaid.

From 2013 to 2017, the number of residents declined from 136 to 101. The number of residents on Tuesday was 101 with 55 on Medicaid, Wegner said.

The decline in residents meant the nursing home has been losing money. According to McLean County Auditor Michelle Anderson's report, the nursing home had an operating loss of $2,127,357 for the year ending Dec. 31.

The losses caught the attention of the County Board, and McIntyre in February asked 10 Central Illinoisans with health and human services experience to voluntarily serve on a blue-ribbon panel to identify the problem and make recommendations to improve the nursing home to keep it open.

The panel concluded that reasons for the resident decline included the nursing home not being a part of OSF's and Advocate's skilled care network to facilitate referrals, the need for renovation of the 1974 building, and a perception among some county residents that the nursing home is for poor people only.

"Our nursing home has been known as a good place," McIntyre said. "But some people think of county nursing homes as the county poor farm. We need to update its reputation."

Converting the four semi-private rooms to private rooms cost only $4,600, Wegner said.

"Private rooms are what most people are looking for now for therapy and short-term stay," Wegner said.

The hospital nurse liaison will meet with potential residents in hospitals, doctors' offices and homes to assess residents for placement in the nursing home.

"Our goal is to increase admissions and be readily accessible to (hospital) discharge planners," Wegner said.

Replacing the contract staff with 13 full-time employee will save money because contract nurses get paid more than salaried nurses, Wegner said. The nursing home has 140 full- and part-time employees.

Wegner said the nursing home will need to increase its census to 125 residents before it can break even.

Contact Paul Swiech at (309) 820-3275. Follow him on Twitter: @pg_swiech

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(c)2018 The Pantagraph (Bloomington, Ill.)

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