DuPage hopes to improve, not sell, convalescent center
Saying they want to protect the long-term sustainability of the DuPage Convalescent Center, county officials are bringing in outside consultants to take "a deep dive" into the operation of the Wheaton facility and recommend changes.
The county-operated nursing facility provides 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, the county has had to pay more to subsidize the 360-bed facility along County Farm Road.
Two years ago, the county contributed $2.4 million annually for the nursing home. Now it spends $3 million to help pay for the center's expenses, which total $36.9 million.
With the uncertainty of funding from the state and federal governments, DuPage officials say they want to identify operational and revenue changes that "support a financially sustainable model that can continue to meet the needs of an underserved population."
So the county board agreed to hire the Center for Governmental Research to perform an in-depth assessment of the convalescent center.
"We're not just looking at finances," said county board member Robert Larsen, chairman of the health and human services committee. "It's looking at staffing, looking at long-term care plans, looking at the overall operation of the facility -- what rooms are used and not used."
The New York-based nonprofit research organization will be paid $99,500 to conduct the study, which is expected to be completed by March 31, 2016.
As part of its work, the group will be asked to make recommendations to help DuPage officials develop a plan that maintains the core mission of the convalescent center and preserves the quality of care for its residents.
"We're looking at ways to solve financial problems to maintain sustainability for the next generation," Larsen said.
Still, some are concerned the study could resurrect talk of selling or privatizing the facility.
Since counties aren't required to operate a convalescent center, there have been politicians through the years who have proposed the DuPage center be sold or turned over to a private management company.
County board member Liz Chaplin said she's worried that could happen again because there have been instances when the Center for Governmental Research recommended other counties sell their nursing homes.
Supporters have said it would be ill-advised to privatize DuPage's center because private facilities don't admit a large number of Medicaid patients. Roughly 80 percent of the convalescent center's patients have their medical bills paid by Medicaid.
Larsen stressed the goal of the study is to find ways to maintain the services at the convalescent center -- not sell the facility.
"We are committed to the sustained use of our convalescent center and to try to make it better going forward," he said. "We're not looking for a justification to close the facility -- never have."
He said other counties that sold their nursing homes did so because they responded too late to the financial challenges.
That's why DuPage is trying to be proactive and address the challenges now, Larsen said.
Board member Jim Zay praised the health and human services committee for recommending the study.
"It's a smart process to go through to make sure we're doing things right," Zay said. "It's something we probably should have done a few years ago."
Board Chairman Dan Cronin said the desire to hire outside consultants was "rooted and motivated by a commitment to the convalescent center."
"I see this as evidence of that commitment to make sure that it's here for another 60 years," Cronin said.