DeKalb County nursing home buyer proposes new contract as sale continues to stall

Illuminate HC principal proposes removing Saba Healthcare principals from DCRNC purchase; special meeting set for Wednesday

Illuminate HC principal Avi Zuckerman asked the DeKalb County Board on Sept. 20, 2023 to consider a new sales contract for the DeKalb County Rehabilitation and Nursing Center that doesn't include the principals of Saba Heathcare – the only other company to bid on the facility in 2022.

SYCAMORE – DeKalb County Board members are holding a special meeting this week to consider a new contract for the $8.3 million sale of the DeKalb County Rehab and Nursing Center.

The new proposal – which was prompted by a request from one of the principals involved in the pending sale – would seek to proceed without involvement from Saba Healthcare, another company involved in the sale.

Evanston-based Illuminate HC principal Avi Zuckerman last Wednesday asked the County Board to consider a new contract for the sale of the DeKalb County Rehab and Nursing Center without Saba Healthcare’s involvement.

Zuckerman said he had sought to involve Saba Healthcare principals Moshe Blonder and Aaron Singer in DeKalb Healthcare Holding LLC, the limited liability company created to operate the facility after the sale, because he felt they could help him operate the facility. Zuckerman, however, said he’s since had a change of heart.

“I am here to say today that I’ve been listening to comments, I’ve been listening to public comments, the media, what the [Illinois Health Facilities and Human Services Review Board] had to say, and taking into account all of that and the fact that time is of the essence with this transaction,” Zuckerman said last week. “I reached out to the county very recently and suggested, at this point, the possibility of being able to continue with this transaction without the involvement of Saba Healthcare.”

The DeKalb County Board voted to initiate the sale of the facility to Illuminate HC for $8.3 million in July 2022. Then, in April, county officials learned that members of the leadership team from the only other company to bid on the facility – Skokie-based Saba Healthcare – had joined forces. Principals from the two companies created DeKalb Healthcare Holdings LLC, records filed online with the Illinois Secretary of State’s Office show.

A special County Board meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday at the DeKalb County Legislative Center to discuss Zuckerman’s request to exclude Saba Healthcare from the transaction.

County Board members and county staff have said the potential sale of the nursing center – the subject of countywide debate since 2021 – was undertaken because the facility had fallen more than $7 million in debt because of what county officials alleged was mismanagement, delinquent billing and declining resident numbers.

In July 2022, the County Board approved Illuminate HC’s letter of intent for the $8.3 million sale offer after Saba’s similarly priced bid failed to receive enough votes for approval. However, in April – more than three months after the expected closing date of Dec. 31, 2022 – DeKalb County administrative staff discovered that Illuminate HC intended to work with the leadership of Saba Healthcare once the nursing home sale closed.

Saba Healthcare and Illuminate HC are the only companies that bid on the county-owned nursing home.

Principals of the two companies created DeKalb Healthcare Holdings LLC, according to records filed online with the Illinois secretary of state, but Zuckerman indicated Wednesday that he’d nix the Saba Healthcare principals from the limited liability company to help the sale go through.

“There is a path here,” Zuckerman said. “There is an option here that may be more favorable to the board and to the public – to adjust course moving forward with the transaction that wouldn’t involve Saba Healthcare operating and being involved in the transaction.”

Over the summer, numerous members of the public as well as Rukisha Crawford and Amber Quitno – Democratic board members representing District 6 and District 3, respectively – became increasingly vocal, crying foul over the Saba-Illuminate partnership. Crawford, in particular, has consistently sought to stop the sale of the county-owned nursing home since DeKalb County Administrator Brian Gregory informed the board of the partnership.

Frankly, I just want to say that if [Zuckerman] can propose an adjustment to this proposed contract moving forward with a transaction, we can definitely propose the idea of not moving forward, as well.”

—  Hannah Williams, DeKalb resident

Before Zuckerman made his suggestion to the board, DeKalb County Democratic Party head Anna Wilhelmi said she’s opposed to any contract to sell the nursing center.

“I’m asking this County Board to absolutely scrutinize this situation and how long this county nursing home has been under unrest due to all these extensions,” Wilhelmi said. “There’s an original contract close date of Dec. 31 of 2022 that went by, then there were further extensions. I think that the County Board has an obligation to its constituents, has an obligation to the residents of this county to scrutinize the situation and to decline any form of extension.”

DeKalb County Administrator Brian Gregory, DeKalb County Board Chair Suzanne Willis, a Democrat from District 10, and Rukisha Crawford, a Democrat from District 6, talk after the Sept. 20, 2023 DeKalb County Board meeting.

Duringlast Wednesday’s County Board meeting, Crawford asked for a special board meeting to discuss Zuckerman’s suggestion before an upcoming Oct. 3 Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board meeting, when a certificate of need application submitted by principals of both companies is up for a vote.

Zuckerman and business partner Israel Davis said they plan to attend the special County Board meeting this week.

Savannah Ilenikhena, a first-term Republican from District 5, said she’s looking forward to the special meeting but she wasn’t expecting the request.

“I would say I was surprised, but I am glad they stopped in, as I know the board members have. We all have a lot of questions, so it’s good that we can ask them and get clarity,” Ilenikhena said.

Gregory said during the old business section of the meeting that if Moshe Blonder and Aharon Singer leave DeKalb Healthcare Holdings, an amended certificate of need application will need to be filed with the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board.

He said he isn’t sure how that will affect the timeline of the sale or if it will require a new public hearing on the matter in DeKalb County before the state board can vote on the application.

First-year County Board member Stewart Ogilvie proposed a measure that failed twice in 2022, before he was on the board: a referendum on a tax levy to support the county-owned nursing home center.

“The sale went through before the people, the populous, were allowed to vote on it,” Ogilvie said. “I think – and I don’t even know if this is the right time or place to do this – but some sort of referendum, perhaps after all the discussions have happened, some sort of referendum as to whether or not this should [be sold]. Let’s start from square one again.”

In 1991, DeKalb County voters passed a referendum that authorized the county government to levy taxes for the nursing home annually for 30 years. Documents show that the tax was never levied, something opponents of the sale often speak to, but Willis said that the voter-approved levy was sunset after three years of not being implemented.

Technically, almost anything is on the table for the special County Board meeting, and Willis said that will be the time for a larger discussion on the sale.

“Clearly, we’re at a very, very uncertain state at the moment,” Willis said. “[On Wednesday], we’ll have the opportunity to have a much larger discussion and then, depending on what happens after that, we have to go into more discussions or not. So I guess we’ll see.”

During the Sept. 13 DeKalb County Board Committee of the Whole meeting, Willis said she’s not a fan of breaking a contract – it could put DeKalb County in legal jeopardy – but believes the board could decide to walk out on the deal at any point before closing.

On Sept. 20, 2023 – more than a year after she first appealed to the DeKalb County Board – Hannah Williams said she is still against the sale of the DeKalb County Rehabilitation and Nursing Center to a private business, regardless of the buyer.

Hannah Williams, a DeKalb resident who has worked at the nursing center, said she came to Wednesday’s board meeting because she heard the buyers of the facility would be at the meeting.

“Frankly, I just want to say that if [Zuckerman] can propose an adjustment to this proposed contract moving forward with a transaction, we can definitely propose the idea of not moving forward, as well,” Williams said.

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