Lake County's long involvement in Winchester House could be ending

A tradition spanning more than 150 years likely will be ending as Lake County considers an exit from the nursing home business.

County officials on Tuesday are expected to follow the unanimous recommendations of two county board committees and seek proposals from private operators to lease and replace Winchester House.

A familiar part of the landscape near Winchester Road and Milwaukee Avenue on the county government campus in Libertyville, Winchester House has seen a continuous drop in patient population and has a current budget shortfall of more than $3 million.

Those factors and dramatic changes in the health care environment, such as a shift to home health care and emergence of other options for care for those who can't afford it, have resulted in the reluctant decision to get out of the nursing home business.

That also was the conclusion of the Winchester House Advisory Board, comprised of county officials and health care professionals who have been studying the operation for the past seven years.

"We knew we had to do it but we did it with a heavy heart," said Carol Calabresa, a county board member from Libertyville and advisory group member.

"We have taken a very thorough, deliberative outlook. We only have our residents in mind and to carry on the Winchester House tradition," she added.

Winchester House opened in 1847 as a poor farm and has since evolved into a long-term care facility with 24-hour skilled care.

Steve Carlson, another county and advisory board member, said he's been a staunch supporter of maintaining Winchester if possible, but the facts say otherwise.

"This is, in my view, the (most) honorable, fiscally sound path we can take," he said.

Building a new Winchester House on the Libertyville campus has been considered for years but never advanced. In October 2011, in an effort to save money and maintain the quality of care, the county board hired Health Dimensions Group of Minneapolis to run the facility.

A market study has shown the use of nursing homes has steadily declined as consumers prefer other options or seek less expensive alternatives. As of July 1, Winchester House, with a capacity of 360, had a population of 155.

The objective is for a private entity to lease the current building and become the licensed operator for up to two years while building a new facility elsewhere in Lake County.

"It's a creative way to make sure the mission continues and there is a new facility built," said Ryan Waller, assistant county administrator.

According to a summary, the request for proposals stresses high quality care; a continued relationship with the Winchester House Advisory Board; plans for a replacement facility; and a provision that existing residents continue to receive services at the existing and new Winchester House.

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