Cutting costs, increasing revenues and using vacant space at the DuPage Convalescent Center are among options county officials could pursue to protect the long-term sustainability of the Wheaton facility, according to a newly released report.
The county-operated nursing facility offers long-term care and short-term rehabilitative services for hundreds of patients, most of whom are on Medicaid.
But because of inadequate and declining Medicaid reimbursement rates, DuPage has had to pay more to subsidize the 368-bed facility along County Farm Road. The county contributes $3 million a year -- and provides millions of dollars more in administrative support -- to the center, which has a roughly $37 million budget.
In an effort to find "a financially sustainable model" for the center, county board members last August hired the Center for Governmental Research to perform an in-depth assessment.
On Tuesday, the New York-based nonprofit group presented its findings during a finance committee meeting.
"We tried to find ways to allow you as a county to continue to preserve the historic mission of this DuPage Convalescent Center," said Donald Pryor, a principal with the Center for Governmental Research.
The center wasn't asked to make specific recommendations. Instead, it outlined options that could help reduce the center's reliance on county funding.
"We believe most of these are practical," Pryor said. "We believe they could be adopted either on their own or in various combinations."
The options are:
• Reducing costs and maximizing effective use of staff.
• Increasing revenues.
• Hiring a management consultant.
• Creating new or expanded services in vacant spaces at the center.
• Constructing a new building or renovating existing space.
• Seeking partnerships and collaboration.
• Levying a property tax to raise money for the center.
• Changing ownership and operation of the center.
Pryor stressed that cost-cutting moves shouldn't involve substantial staffing reductions. He said reducing the number of employees providing direct services would "significantly negatively impact the quality of care."
When it comes to transferring ownership and operation of the center, Pryor warned that doing so would give someone else the power to make decisions for the facility.
"Somebody could come in and buy it, run it as a nursing home for two years, and two years later decide to totally change the use of the facility," he said.
Supporters have long said it would be ill-advised to privatize the center because such facilities don't admit a large number of Medicaid patients. Roughly 75 percent of the center's patients have their medical bills paid by Medicaid.
County officials say the study is just the start of an ongoing discussion.
"The facility is an incredibly complex organism," said county board member Robert Larsen, chairman of the health and human services committee. "It's also a really important mission of the county. So we don't want to just pick and choose things without giving it thought."
He said the study did "a tremendous job" of identifying options. Now the county is inviting the public to review those options and provide feedback.
The Center for Governmental Research report is available at dupageco.org/convo. Comments can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Next month, residents can make comments during a special meeting of the health and human services panel. The session is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. April 5 in the county board room on the third floor of the administration building, 421 N. County Farm Road in Wheaton.
Larsen said DuPage is having the discussion now because officials want to address the financial challenges as soon as possible.
"A lot of counties wait until it's a crisis and it's too late to fix the problem," Larsen said. "We wanted to get ahead of that and deal with it now."