Officials outline new oversight plans for DeKalb County nursing center

DeKalb County Board approves changes to nursing center’s bylaws, nine months after failed sale

Seated in the front row of the DeKalb County Board, Democratic County Board members Rukisha Crawford, Mary Cozad and Scott Campbell, from Districts 6, 10 and 7, respectively, listen to public comments during a DeKalb County Board meeting on June 26, 2024.

SYCAMORE – Changes to the way the DeKalb County Rehabilitation and Nursing Center Oversight Board operates and reports to county officials were approved during a DeKalb County Board meeting June 26.

The changes predominantly affect how DeKalb County Board members will be kept in the loop to the happenings of the nursing center and oversight board, and who will be responsible for those reports.

The proposed changes were not written until the June 12 executive committee meeting.

During that meeting Democratic County Board member Rukisha Crawford, from District 6, said she was worried County Board members weren’t getting enough insight into the oversight board’s happenings. In her comments, she recalled the nursing center’s former operating board that was dissolved in December 2021, months after it was discovered the nursing center was millions of dollars in debt.

“We had an oversight committee before that never reported to the county [SIC] of the whole, so my concern is, ‘l[Doesn’t] the county of the whole want to hear from the oversight committee themselves about what they’re talking about?’ ” Crawford said.

The nursing center has been a focal point of county financial concerns for years.

In March 2021, then newly hired County Administrator Brian Gregory said he learned the facility did not have enough money to make payroll.

Officials alleged the budget hole was due to issues including delinquent billing dating back to 2017, dwindling resident numbers and what employees alleged was yearslong mismanagement of the facility, according to county documents and testimony from center staff and county staff at public meetings between since mid-2022.

After an $8.3 million contract to sell the facility to private buyers fell through in early October 2023, county officials have focused on introducing new management, finding ways to bring the facility back from the brink of insolvency, and preventing a similar situation from happening again.

In December 2023, the nursing center oversight board was introduced with members of the public as well as County Board members. Bylaws for the new group tasked with overseeing the center’s operations were established in January 2024.

Anna Wilhelmi – head of the DeKalb County Democratic Party who is herself expected to seek a seat on the County Board in November – is the first chair of the nursing center oversight board.

During the June 12 executive committee meeting she said she wasn’t looking to overstep her authority.

“I am not looking to replace in any way the administrators role, or alter it,” Wilhelmi said. “As some of the members have brought forward, there is contradictory information in the three sections of the bylaws as to reporting. Specifically, quarterly is not clear as to whether the oversight board reports. It indicates on behalf of oversight that the administrator report quarterly and in the final section that’s in front of you, indicating that, in fact, that the chair and the administrator should be reporting to each of the committees.”

After nuanced discussion about the nature of the oversight board’s role in helping the County Board govern the county-owned rehabilitation center, Democrat Scott Campbell from District 7 proposed the changes that wound up being approved.

Those changes to the operating board’s bylaws mean nursing center administrator Bart Becker won’t deliver reports “on behalf of the oversight board,” when he provides a quarterly report on the facility to County Board committees. The quarterly report for the Board’s Committee of the Whole will include time for the chair of the oversight board, or a designee to address the committee.

Language stipulating the administrator and chair report together to the three committees on a quarterly basis was also nixed from the bylaws.

The DeKalb County Board also approved three separate resolutions authorizing Becker to enter the nursing center into agreements with various hospice, inpatient and aging services that county officials say will aide their efforts to make the facility solvent.

Those measures were passed unanimously by a fully seated County Board. The bylaws changes received one vote against it, however.

Republican County Board Vice Chair John Frieders was the only member of the DeKalb County Board executive committee to vote against the changes.

After his vote he said he thinks “it’s too soon to start changing things.”

“I like the process we’re doing, I like how we’ve had it set up, and I just would like us to stay with the same process we’re doing for awhile and just keep things running as they are,” Frieders said. “I think they are going well, and I’d just like us to stay with the process as it’s going.”

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