BOLINGBROOK – An Illinois state review board this week put a vote regarding the $8.3 million sale of the DeKalb County Rehabilitation and Nursing Center on hold pending what state officials said was a desire to learn more about the pending buyers’ quality assurance plans for the DeKalb facility.
A certificate of need application submitted by the prospective buyers of the DeKalb County Rehab and Nursing Center was deferred by the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board, likely delaying the sale for months.
The hearing was required as part of the process for the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board to award the health care facility a Certificate of Need – one of the final steps before DeKalb County can officially transfer ownership of the longtime county-owned rehab and nursing center.
The board won’t meet again until Oct. 3.
“This gives everybody a chance to do some more research, to find some more answers and to work together, and that’s really what I would like to see happen,” said DeKalb County resident Carol Deemer.
The DeKalb County Board voted to initiate the sale of the facility to Evanston-based Illuminate H.C. for $8.3 million in July 2022. Then, in April 2023, county officials learned 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.
Nursing center employee Chuck Simpson has worked at the facility for 33 years and is president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees No. 3537, which represents the nursing center’s employees.
Simpson attend the meeting also and said he’s “very happy” the review board deferred their decision.
“I think the review board was very inquisitive on Saba Healthcare, and I think personally the more they get to find the more they’re not going to like,” Simpson said.
Simpson has been attending public meetings on the pending sale – first discussed nearly two years ago – since the beginning.
The county owns the facility so any losses would be incurred by the county. However, there is an agreement in place that may defray some of the costs to the county after august 1.”— DeKalb County Administrator Brian Gregory
State raises questions
The Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board voted 7-1 to defer the proposed certificate of need application.
In their decision, Board members cited a lack of clarity on the buyers’ quality of care at other facilities the company’s principles are affiliated with.
Applicants Moshe Blonder, Aaron Singer and Avichai Zuckerman of DeKalb Healthcare Holdings were not in attendance.
Board members said their decision to table a vote was due in large part because Blonder and Singer have joint ownership in 10 healthcare facilities, seven of which have been given the lowest possible star rating by the federal government.
Mark Silberman – a lawyer representing the principals of Illuminate HC and Saba Healthcare – said Blonder and Singer were not able to attend because they were observing an Orthodox Judaism holiday.
When prompted, Silberman did not present specific details about the business plan for the DeKalb nursing center, or the applicants’ plans to improve their other facilities’ star ratings under the criteria reported by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
The star ratings are determined based on health inspections, staffing and quality measures such as if residents are up to date on flu shots, if they’re in pain or losing weight.
Board members emphasized that the deferment was more to do with its unanswered questions than the businessmen observing a holiday.
Blonder and Singer’s joint ownership facilities include Arista Healthcare, which has a three-star rating, and Morgan Park Healthcare and Rock River Health Care which hold two stars. Briar Place Nursing in Indian Head Park, California Terrace in Chicago, Forrest City Rehab and Nursing Center in Rockford, Parc Joliet, Pearl Pavilion in Freeport and Spring Creek in Joliet all have one star ratings, according to medicare.gov.
In comments that echoed ones made by Blonder to the DeKalb County Board a year ago in July 2022, Silberman said he believes the government’s star rating system is flawed. He called critics of the sale and his clients “uninformed,” and said many of his clients’ facilities were bought as one-star facilities.
“The applicants have no record at all of creating one star facilities, they have an established practice of acquiring one star facilities,” Silberman said.
Review Board members asked Silberman if his clients had a quality improvement plan for their current one-star facilities. Silberman said a plan exists, but was unable to provide specifics when pressed by board members.
The sale was prompted a year ago by the DeKalb County Board after revelations discovered by DeKalb County Administrator Brian Gregory in 2021, he said.
Gregory has said that on March 15, 2021, 15 days after he began working as the county administrator, the DeKalb County Treasurer – who was appointed the month before – told him the DeKalb County Rehab and Nursing center was out of funds.
In April 2021, the County Board approved giving the nursing center $2 million to keep it operational. In October of the same year, the St.Louis-based management company that had been operating the facility for years informed the county it would stop running it by the end of the year, Gregory said.
Years of alleged mismanagement, delinquent billing and falling resident numbers created $7 million worth of debt, county officials have said.
Since last summer’s vote to sell, officials have estimated the county continues to incur an average of $200,000 a month in debt from the facility.
DeKalb County is under a contract with DeKalb Healthcare Holding that stipulates funding plans for if a sale isn’t finalized by Aug. 1, however.
Within a DeKalb County Board resolution signed on April 19 is a clause that says if the closing date occurs after Aug. 1, DeKalb Healthcare Holding LLC will cover up to $200,000 in losses per month to the county. Gregory said in April that number was decided upon because it is roughly the amount of debt the county takes on through the facility each month, but the clause would only be activated if the sale were slowed by Illuminate HC.
Dr. Audrey Lynn Tanksley was the only member of the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board to vote no on the deferment – she said she doesn’t think the certificate of need application should require a deferment.
“I think if you were prepared with your testimony today, and thought that you’d anticipated everything that the board would ask, that you should be voted on,” Tanksley said to Silberman.
Silberman asked the board to consider convening a special meeting before October, fearing the delay will add to the facility’s current debt.
“Based on the fact that we’re talking about this moving to the October meeting – we are talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars of losses that really could undermine the potential of what’s being proposed,” Silberman said.
Silberman said he’s not aware of the resolution approved by the DeKalb County Board for his clients to pay DeKalb County $200,00 per month to cover losses while the sale remains pending.
Silberman said he believes a delay could force the DeKalb County Board to consider shutting down the facility.
DeKalb County officials, however, have long said closing the facility is not on the table.
Gregory, who also attended the Bolingbrook meeting, said Friday DeKalb ”County has been committed to ensuring the [DCRNC] is a skilled nursing facility for our community.”
“The county owns the facility so any losses would be incurred by the county,” Gregory said in a Friday email to the Daily Chronicle. “However, there is an agreement in place that may defray some of the costs to the county after august 1.”