SYCAMORE – In light of continuing budget shortfalls, the DeKalb County Board may soon absorb the DeKalb County Rehab and Nursing Center operating board for what county staff call financial purposes.
By a voice vote, county board executive committee members on Wednesday voted, 7-0, to bring the matter before the full board next week. All members of the committee were present during the Wednesday meeting, with Rukisha Crawford attending the meeting remotely.
DeKalb County Administrator Brian Gregory said Wednesday the operating board was meant to exist on its own financially. Due to continued budget constraints from the nursing home, the county board has had to approve financial aid to the facility, however, $4.5 million in total so far, he said.
“It’s really, from a fiscal standpoint, acting like another county department,” Gregory said.
To address continued staff and financial issues, the county board also voted 7-0 to begin a search for brokerage and consulting services to evaluate the nursing home’s finances.
Gregory said county staff wants to bring in a fresh set of eyes and financial expertise to figure out next steps for the nursing home. He said that could include selling the nursing home to a private buyer.
Operating board members Ferald Bryan and Greg Millburg attended the meeting Wednesday, though they did not provide public comment. Bryan and Millburg deferred additional comment to board chairwoman Rita Nielson, who was not present at the Wednesday meeting.
The next county board meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Dec. 8 at the county legislative center, 200 N. Main St. in Sycamore.
The consensus comes shortly after county officials recently said budget shortfalls for the county nursing home continued to noticeably worsen since March due to what they said were declining resident numbers and cost increases.
DeKalb County Board Chairman John Frieders said county anticipate having to address “a whole series of very difficult decisions that have to be made.”
“And this is just one of them,” Frieders said Wednesday, referring to the operating board.
As other long-term care facilities in the country are facing similar resident-retention issues, the average daily census for the DeKalb County Nursing and Rehab Center went from 181 in 2018, to 168 in 2019, to 141 in 2020, to 117 this year. In order to break even, the nursing home census would have to be at about 175 people, Gregory said Wednesday.
According to county documents, the nursing home raked in about $2.1 million less than expected in revenue during fiscal year 2019. In August 2020, the county sold $13 million in bonds for the nursing home’s expansion project to be paid from operating revenues over the next three decades.
The nursing home’s debt service averages about $661,500 per year, or about $55,000 per month, according to county documents. That totals about $19.8 million, documents show.
The expansion included additional rooms, an activity center, an upgraded fire alarm system, a nursing call system, a larger chiller and a new boiler system. A 15,400-square-foot transitional care unit added 18 rooms to the 83,000-square-foot facility.
The nursing home then collected $2.8 million less than expected in revenues during fiscal year 2020, according to county documents. The county treasurer’s office began to note cash flow issues with the nursing home fund in March 2021, which resulted in the County Board approving a $2 million loan for cash flow purposes.
By Sept. 1, the loan proceeds were exhausted, the documents state.
The county government pays nursing home staff directly, and also pays temporary hiring agencies to bring in staff to work at the facility.
Maggie Niemi, DeKalb County Nursing and Rehab Center administrator, said center primarily has its own nurses and certified nursing assistants, or CNAs, working day, afternoon and night shifts. However, she said afternoon and evening shifts are the hardest to staff for CNAs especially, despite a $3 per hour increase in pay offered as an incentive.
She said about 75% of the center’s staff on afternoon and night shifts are temp workers.
“So that’s on two shifts,” Niemi said. “To balance it all out, I would say maybe it might be 40%.”
Gregory said the operating board’s meeting scheduled for Dec. 9 may be the board’s final one. If the county board votes to absorb the operating board, it would do so by the end of 2021.
“And I want to make it clear that this has nothing to do with the operating board,” Gregory said. “A lot of times – especially in the last six to eight months ... people were asked to serve on a volunteer board and assume it’s going to be a commitment. And with the challenges that have happened, some of the board members have really dedicated a lot of time and they stepped up.”