Opinions about the future direction of the county-owned Winchester House mark a key difference separating candidates for the Lake County Board District 13 Republican nomination.
Rick Lesser, 56, solidly favors building a new nursing home to help care for the county's Medicaid patients.
His March 20 primary opponent, David Barkhausen, 61, thinks the county should save its money because there is plenty of room for Medicaid patients to be properly cared for at private nursing homes.
Lesser, an attorney and small-business owner from Lake Bluff, is a former Lake Bluff village trustee and past president of the Lake Bluff Bar Association. Barkhausen, a life insurance consultant from Lake Bluff, is the Shields Township clerk, a former Lake Bluff village trustee and former Illinois state senator.
A third candidate, Jay Krasne, who filed paperwork to run for the race, dropped out in January.
The winner of the Republican nomination will move on to face the winner of the Democrat primary between Anthony Soler, Sandra Hart and Robert Glueckert.
District 13 serves all of Lake Bluff and portions of North Chicago, Gurnee and Waukegan.
The Lake County Board decided several years ago to build a new nursing home facility. The construction-only cost was estimated at $31 million, Lake County Administrator Barry Burton said, and doesn't include architecture, land purchase and other potential needs. A cost was never determined to repair Winchester House, he said, but it is expected to be greater than half the cost of new construction.
In October, Lake County Board members voted to hire a private company take over the daily operation of Winchester House as a way to save $1.5 million annually, something Lesser and Barkhausen agreed was a good move.
During the primary campaign, some county board candidates have been weighing in on whether the board should support a new facility, repairing the existing facility, or closing Winchester House in favor of having private nursing homes care for Medicaid patients.
"There is a high demand for nursing homes in Lake County that take Medicaid patients," Lesser said. "From all the research I have done, there isn't enough beds available in the private sector to offset the growing need of county residents in the future."
Barkhausen said his research shows there will be enough beds at private nursing homes for patients that depend on Medicaid, and it doesn't make sense to spend money on a new facility if patients can be accommodated elsewhere.
"My position is based on discussions with those who have been leaders of the public health system in Lake County," he said. "My statistics show there is plenty of room in private facilities for Medicaid patients. And, if that's the case, it doesn't make sense to spend the money on a new facility."