DeKalb County nursing home expansion still unfinished, could cost thousands more, officials say

The DeKalb County Rehab and Nursing Center

DeKALB – A multimillion-dollar expansion for the DeKalb County Rehabilitation and Nursing Center that began four years ago remains unfinished, government officials said this week.

And if officials decide to move forward with the expansion, which first went out to bid in 2018, it could cost a facility already struggling with dwindling resident numbers and cost increases thousands more to complete.

Steve O’Bryan, maintenance supervisor for the county nursing home, told members of the county’s Public Building Commission on Tuesday that there is additional work to be done on the expansion, including more painting and flooring plans.

“Which is going to be a logistical nightmare in one of the buildings right now,” O’Bryan said, “because we’ve taken all the residents except for our Alzheimer’s unit and put them in just one building. So we have two empty hallways right at the moment.”

He said the building where residents currently live at the facility also needs flooring work done. And the expansion portion of the facility will need to be equipped with an emergency power supply.

“That was a $20,000 bill right there. ... and that still needs to be done,” O’Bryan said.

In August 2020, the county sold $13 million in bonds for the nursing home’s expansion project, said DeKalb County Administrator Brian Gregory, who joined county government in mid-2021. Gregory said a 30-year repayment plan was outlined for the county to pay back the bonds from its operating revenues.

So between now and 2030 with interest, it ends up being about $16.26 million,” Gregory said.

Gregory said the county recently tried to put some finishing touches for the expansion out for bid on a $90,000 line of credit. However, county officials decided against pursuing the $330,000 bid they got back.

“I think, with the eyeball test, there’s no way that’s $90,000 worth of work,” Gregory said. “There’s whole hallways of flooring that were included – and you can see pretty quickly that it was much more than that. ... The scope of work is larger than what the credit was.”

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, which is 22 years old, and the project included renovating 13 rooms in existing wings.

County officials now have to decide whether pursuing more construction work on the expansion is worth the money, especially as financial constraints continue to plague the nursing facility.

“What we want to do is, with the County Board having to make some difficult decisions, is we want to make sure that any investment that we make is money well spent,” Gregory said.

County officials previously said the nursing and rehab center was meant to exist on its own, financially. However, because of the continued budget constraints from the nursing home, the DeKalb County Board has had to approve millions in cash flow financial aid to the facility so far, Gregory said.

“Right now ... the county’s got $6.9 million in the nursing home,” Gregory said.

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 119 at the end of 2021 and now hovers between 120 and 130. In order to break even, the nursing home census would have to be at about 175 people, county officials said.

Gregory said Tuesday that nursing home finances previously were determined by that census number of 175 residents, although the center’s current census falls short by at least 45 residents.

“So you can see where those things don’t add up, where we’re running into some issues,” Gregory said.

As the center’s realities came to light over the past year, county officials have said they want to reassure the public it’s not the government’s intent to close the center, nor is a sale of the building imminent.

The County Board in February approved a $10,000 contract for a consultant to help the county decide whether to sell the county nursing home. The contract for consulting and brokerage services went to Marcus and Millichap, which has offices in Chicago and Oak Brook Terrace.

Gregory told commissioners Tuesday that the county has a few options for the nursing home. One is to sell the facility to a private buyer and another is for the nursing home to remain under county ownership but be leased to a private tenant.

The county also could hire a management agency to run the facility, Gregory said.

“The comments from the board have been unfavorable for that,” Gregory said. “We had a management company and we haven’t had very good success with that.”

Gregory said the nursing home continues to rely on temporary hired help, which is expensive for the county. He cited a shortage of willing nursing applicants to take full-time jobs with the county directly when they could earn a higher wage through an agency.

In December, the County Board absorbed the operating board for the DeKalb County Rehab and Nursing Center. The action was meant to be one of several steps the county government is looking to take to address budget constraints at the facility.

On the agenda for the DeKalb County Public Building Commission’s Tuesday meeting, which was open to the public, a tour of the nursing home was expected to take place. Although the commission had a meeting quorum, commissioners postponed the tour until the next meeting, scheduled for 8:30 a.m. May 3. Commissioners cited its members’ individual scheduling conflicts as a reason for the tour postponement.