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The DeKalb County Board votes yes to sell its nursing home

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Maria Gardner Lara
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Shell DeYoung Dunn, a Somonauk resident, speaks during the public comment period at the DeKalb County Board meeting on July 20, 2022 before the board takes a vote on the fate of the DeKalb County Rehab and Nursing Center.

The DeKalb County Board voted to sell the DeKalb County Rehab and Nursing Center on Wednesday, after a yearlong discussion on how to resolve the nursing home’s more than $7 million shortfall. The decision came after the board failed to pass a referendum measure that would allow voters to weigh in on the home's fate.

A couple of people spoke during the public comment period before the vote who were in favor of selling, citing the need to think of the nursing home’s impact on the entire county budget. But the majority — employees of the home, as well as community members -- pleaded with the board to vote “no” on a sale to a for-profit company with low quality of care ratings. They said the move would put union jobs at risk and jeopardize the care of elderly residents.

“They are not going to give these people care,” said Shell DeYoung Dunn, a Somonauk resident. “I was there. I looked at these places. We are so so lucky to have the DeKalb nursing home . . . A community shows how great it is by how it treats those who are less fortunate.”

In 2017, DeYoung Dunn said her husband stayed in a private facility for physical therapy but after two days died of a heart attack. She blames his death on the lack of attention from the nursing staff.

The County Board voted to sell the 169-year-old nursing home to Illuminate, HC, in a 17-5 vote, for $8.5 million.

Some members who voted against putting a referendum on the ballot, said they saw no path forward, even with the potential for an increase in property taxes to help cover the nursing home’s costs. The referendum would have asked voters if they would support a .1% property tax increase to support the nursing home.

A member of the county’s Health and Human Services Committee, Ellingsworth Webb, voted in favor of selling the home to Illuminate, HC rather than Shaba Healthcare, the other bidder for the home.

“The choice of the board is to do no harm to the residents. So, it'll be whatever facility is the least worst of the two that protects the residents of DeKalb County.”

The Evanston-based company owns nursing homes in Michigan. Several of its facilities, such as locations in Muskegon and Whitehall have been flagged for allegations of abuse by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Rukisha Crawford, the chair of the Health and Human Services Committee, voted against the sale due to her opposition to profit-run nursing homes. “I’m not in favor of the staff losing their jobs . . . the low ratings, the poor care, I'm just not happy,” Crawford said.

During the meeting, Brian Gregory related to the board a message from the head of Illuminate, HC, stating his commitment to working with the union. But, several employees said they doubted that and did not foresee the company maintaining the same level of staffing. The county’s home has the highest rating for staffing levels, with an above average registered nurse ratio to patients.

AFSCME staff representative Lori Laidlaw in a statement said:

AFSCME members who work at the DeKalb County Rehab and Nursing Center—and the hundreds more union members who live throughout the county—are disappointed by last night’s votes. Too many board members disregarded the powerful testimony of nursing home residents, their families and employees who’ve attended every meeting and spoken passionately in support of keeping the county nursing home in public hands.

We believe a sale is wrong for residents who count on available, affordable and good-quality care in their community. A sale is wrong for taxpayers who under these terms are getting pennies on the dollar, sticking them with debt. And a sale is wrong for employees whose livelihoods are threatened, along with the work they do each day to care for residents for whom they are like family.

But our fight is far from over. The letter of intent is not binding, and actually selling the home would require another vote by the board within the next 45 days.

We believe that the people of DeKalb County should decide whether our nursing home will remain accountable to the public and accessible to every county resident who needs care, regardless of income. Over the next six weeks we’re going to do everything possible to see that happen.

The final sale of the nursing home requires a vote with a two-thirds majority to pass.

A Chicago native, Maria graduated from the University of Illinois Springfield with a master's in public affairs. Maria is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America. RFA is a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities. It is an initiative of The GroundTruth Project, a nonprofit journalism organization. Un residente nativo de Chicago, Maria se graduó de University of Illinois Springfield con una licenciatura superior en relaciones públicas.