Nursing home residents, loved ones, push to stop DeKalb County nursing center sale

DeKalb County Administrator Brian Gregory, standing next to DeKalb County assistant State's Attorney David Berault, talks to Dawn Graves, Mike Ostrom, Amanda Walter and others about the pending sale of the DeKalb County Rehab and Nursing Center after a public hearing was held in DeKalb on July 11, 2023 pertaining to the last major process left before the deal can close.

DeKALB – Not a single person, out of the more than 50 in attendance, spoke on record in support of the proposed DeKalb County Rehab and Nursing Center sale to a private company during a public hearing on Tuesday.

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.

“I’m here today to ask your board not to give Saba Healthcare the Certificate of Need. It’s unbelievable that we are here fighting to keep our 160-year-old public nursing home from becoming yet another privately run health care establishment,” said Chuck Simpson, a 33-year employee of the facility who also is president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees No. 3537, which represents the nursing center’s employees.

Thirty-three-year DeKalb County Rehab and Nursing Center employee, Chuck Simpson, 53, the president of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees No. 3537, watches as his mother, Carolyn Simpson, 74, hugs Mary Roman on July 11, 2023. Roman, 88, has been a resident of the county-owned nursing home for the past eight years, and is staunchly against the sale of the facility.

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.

The Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board is expected to consider the Certificate of Need application at a 9 a.m. meeting July 27 at the Bolingbrook Golf Club, 2001 Rodeo Drive, Bolingbrook. The meeting is open to the public and is scheduled to last until 4 p.m.

Nikki Marsh was among the first to speak during the hearing, and like most others who weighed in, said she was particularly concerned by the involvement of Saba Healthcare.

Marsh also said she thinks the goal of the sale should be ensuring the safety and wellbeing of residents at the center. She said she believes DeKalb County has made this a priority, but wouldn’t say the same about DeKalb Healthcare Holdings LLC because of the company’s association with Saba Healthcare.

Others who attended the meeting said they had concerns about the quality of service Saba Healthcare’s nursing homes provide its residents.

“We would like to say we are not fighting the County Board on the sale of the nursing home, just the company they are selling to, [DeKalb Healthcare Holdings LLC],” Marsh said. “However, we are not opposed to them looking at other options.”

Many of those who spoke directed their voices to the DeKalb County Board – not the state-appointed review board responsible for the decision on whether to award the Certificate of Need to the facility’s potential new owners and operators later this month.

At the beginning of the hearing, DeKalb County Administrator Brian Gregory gave the public a brief timeline of how he found out the facility was insolvent, which prompted the sale.

Gregory said on March 15, 2021, 15 days after he began working as the county administrator, that 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 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.

Mike Ostrom, whose mother is a current DeKalb nursing center resident, questioned the county hadn’t done more financially to prop up the facility.

“You can find money for everything else, you can take money from [COVID-19] and you can put it toward bridges, toward the police department, but you took it from an amenity that should have gotten it,” Ostrom said.

After the public hearing Ostrom asked Gregory if county officials can stop the sale, even if the Certificate of Need is approved.

“DeKalb County Board has a contractual relationship to the buyer to sell the facility,” Gregory said.

DeKalb County Assistant State’s Attorney David Berault, meanwhile, addressed speculation by some questioning whether the two companies discussed their bids last year before submitting them. Berault said there was no evidence to substantiate such claims.

Mary Roman, 88, a DeKalb County Rehab and Nursing Center resident, said she’s worried the facility’s services will deteriorate once the sale goes through.

“I do not want to live in a facility where I am uncomfortable and have to live in fear,” Roman said. “I have not felt that way since living in the DeKalb County home ... I would like to keep it that way.”

Attorney Mark Silberman, of Benesh Law based in Chicago, who spoke on behalf of DeKalb Healthcare Holdings LLC, said continued access to care is “key” to the project.

“I cannot speak, and it wouldn’t be my place, to speak to anything in the past, only looking forward to the process ahead, and to the future,” Silberman said.

More than 50 people gathered on the second floor of the DeKalb Police Station at 700 W. Lincoln Highway on July 11, 2023 to attend a public hearing regarding the sale of the DeKalb County Rehab and Nursing Center to a private buyer.

DeKalb County Board Chairman Suzanne Willis, a Democrat from District 10, attended the meeting along with board members Mary Cozad, a Democrat from District 10; Ellingsworth Webb, a Democrat from District 9; Scott Campbell, a Democrat from District 7; Rukisha Crawford, a Democrat from District 6 and John Frieders, a Republican from District 12.

While Cozad answered a question from the public, Crawford – Chairman of the DeKalb County Board Health and Human Services Committee – was the only board member to officially speak on the record during the public hearing.

As recently as June, Crawford has asked if the County Board is at liberty to nix the sale. County officials told her the county effectively couldn’t do anything.

“I just would like to say I am a supporter, and I have always been a supporter,” Crawford said. “As I ran for elections, I ran to be your voice, and I’m here today to be your voice, in support of you.”

DeKalb County resident Don Gates lamented the board’s vote to sell the nursing home last year, and said he can tell the facility is better than many private nursing centers based on smell alone.

“The county home is the only nursing home you can go into - you will not smell urine,” Gates said. “That’s your first test.”

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