For first time, Winchester House to be run by private company

A private company will operate Lake County's Winchester House nursing home under a deal approved by the county board Tuesday.

The deal is expected to save the county $1.5 million a year, cash that could help fund the long-stalled construction of a new Winchester House near the current facility in Libertyville.

Health Dimensions Group of Minneapolis will run the facility, which has been owned and operated by the county for decades. It will be paid $50,000 a month for the work.

The board approved the proposal with a 15-8 vote that mostly followed party lines. Democrats cast all eight “no” votes.

Two Democrats, Deerfield's Michelle Feldman and Highland Park's Anne Flanigan Bassi, voted with the Republicans to pass the deal.

Declining patient demand, the changing nature of the health care industry, rising costs and building-improvement needs have made running Winchester House financially untenable for the county, officials have said.

Opponents of the deal, including some county board members and a labor union representative, have criticized the proposal, saying it would result in lower wages and fewer benefits for workers.

Before casting her “no” vote, Grayslake Democrat Melinda Bush criticized the plan because it involves giving taxpayer money to a corporation.

Additionally, Bush claimed some current Winchester House workers might lose their homes to foreclosure because of the predicted pay cuts.

“I don't think that's crazy,” she said.

But proponents have said a job with lower wages is better than not having a job at all.

“This is the only way to save those jobs,” Gurnee Republican Steve Carlson said. “I don't think we have any other option.”

The contract calls for Health Dimensions Group to operate Winchester House for two years. Two additional one-year renewals are possible, too.

The county will retain the license for Winchester House and control of the facility.

“We will always have ownership of the house,” said board Chairman David Stolman, a Buffalo Grove Republican. “We are bringing someone in to help run it.”

Lake Zurich Republican Craig Taylor ruffled feathers when he said a vote against the deal is “a vote to do away with Winchester House in the future.”

Democrats Audrey Nixon of North Chicago and Mary Ross Cunningham of Waukegan criticized the comment. When it came time to vote, Bush said she wanted to vote for Winchester House but against this proposal, which prompted groans and comments from other commissioners.

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