SYCAMORE – The DeKalb County Board is one vote away from creating an oversight board for the DeKalb County Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, which will remain in county hands following a year-long sale effort amid a $7 million budget shortfall at the facility.
After an $8.3 million contract to sell the facility to private buyers fell through in early October – last month a lawsuit was filed against the nursing home buyers for dropping out of the sale – county officials have focused on finding ways to bring the facility back from the brink of insolvency, and preventing a similar situation from happening again.
To that end, DeKalb County Board members have mulled the creation of a DeKalb County Rehab and Nursing Center oversight board over the past two months. However, some members of the public have expressed concerns that the new board could be ineffective.
Madeline Nelson, a staunch opponent of the sale and an outspoken supporter of the nursing center, said the oversight board should be comprised of rehabilitation and administrative experts, not politicians.
“You can’t get the information that you need if people are not willing to step up, take chances, risk being disliked and give you the information that you need. I came here at some cost. It takes guts to stand before the County Board and say, ‘We think you got it wrong.’ And I don’t like it, I don’t like to be the center of attention, no one does, but what we need is more free flowing information,” Nelson said.
No oversight board has yet been approved. Creation of the group requires full County Board approval. The earliest a vote could happen is Dec. 13.
Wednesday, a nearly two-hour discussion ended with the County Board’s Executive Committee unanimously approving a proposal for a nine-person oversight board. The oversight board members would be appointed by the DeKalb County Board, with six seats reserved for members of the public and three seats earmarked for members of the DeKalb County Board.
If the group is created, DeKalb County residents with relevant expertise will be encouraged to apply for the oversight board’s six public positions. Two of the three County Board seats would be allocated to elected board members who chair the Health and Human Services Committee and Finance and Administration Committee. A third seat would be given to a County Board member at large.
The Executive Committee also unanimously proposed a list of 12 duties and responsibilities for potential oversight board:
- The acquisition, purchase, sale, lease, transfer or encumbrance of any real estate or of any substantial part of other assets of the DeKalb County Rehab and Nursing Center.
- Any increment or additions to the capital debt or to renegotiate, modify or otherwise change the existing capital debt obligations of the DeKalb County Rehab and Nursing Center.
- Any borrowing not indicated in the capital or operating budgets of the DeKalb County Rehab and Nursing Center.
- The adoption of the annual operating and capital budgets of the DeKalb County Rehab and Nursing Center or any changes thereto.
- To approve expenditures as provided in the Bylaws.
- All matters related to the appointment, compensation and employment status of the DeKalb County Rehab and Nursing Center Administrator.
- To determine wages of all employees of the DeKalb County Rehab and Nursing Center.
- Approval of Collective Bargaining Agreements.
- The selection and award of any contracts for an outside Management Company (only in the event the Board determines to use a management company). If applicable, these contracts will be bid under Illinois Law and re-bid at least every four years.
- To enter into or settle litigation.
- Establish prices for goods and services
- A three month reporting cycle to the Health and Human Services Committee, Finance and Administration Committee and the Committee of the Whole
If the board is created, it wouldn’t be the first tasked with overseeing nursing center operations.
The Nursing Home Operational Board was dissolved by the County Board in December 2021. That was months after then newly-hired DeKalb County Administrator Brian Gregory was informed by the DeKalb County Treasurer’s office in March 2021 that the DeKalb County Rehab and Nursing Center had insufficient funds to make payroll.
DeKalb County Board Chairwoman Suzanne Willis, a Democrat from District 10, has suggested twice this fall that the County Board Chairman hold a seat on the oversight board. Her idea has since been tweaked by County Board members to allow for any board member to fill the third seat allocated to the County Board.
Willis said she put forth her idea because she doesn’t want the county’s predominant governing body to lose sight of the nursing center’s operation.
“I worry, again, of not having that really tight connection between this [oversight] board and the County Board because the buck stops with the County Board,” Willis said. “You’re responsible for ensuring the fiscal operation of the county as a whole, including the nursing home, and I don’t want us, I don’t want that to drift away.”