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Advocates still rally for DeKalb County’s ownership of its nursing home as the county sues one-time buyers for the failed sale

Madelyn Nelson (center) speaks with Anna Wilhelmi, chair of the DeKalb County Democratic Party, in the hall of the DeKalb County Legislative Center during a closed session of the DeKalb County Boar meeting.  In the background gathers Joyce Klein, former chief of corrections for the DeKalb County Jail, Nickie Marsh, Janet Berkes, and Mike Ostrom (left to right).
Maria Gardner Lara
Madelyn Nelson (center) speaks with Anna Wilhelmi, chair of the DeKalb County Democratic Party,

The sale of the DeKalb County nursing home fell through in October. Now, the county state’s attorney has sued the one-time buyers of the home for over $8.3 million for fraud and breach of contract. Meanwhile, supporters are pivoting their energy to ensure that the facility provides quality care and is financially sound.

They’ve been a frequent presence at the county board meetings.

On one evening, there’s around 20 people standing in the hall. They’re waiting for the DeKalb County Board meeting to reopen to the public. Among them is Mike Ostrom.

He’s been the object of reprimand during a county board meeting. He spoke outside of the allotted public comment period.

He doesn’t read off written remarks. And he’s chastised the board for what he views as their bad job handling the center’s financial woes.

Ostrom said he doesn’t like politics very much but feels compelled to speak up.

“You don't back me into a corner that I can't get out of,” he said, “and I'm gonna get out of it.”

His mother resides in the dementia unit at the county home. She had a stroke during COVID, and her condition worsened.

He said she initially stayed in a private home since the county wasn’t accepting new patients during the pandemic.

When she did move to the county’s home, he noticed the difference in care.

“We don't have her," he said, "where she's got bruises on her head or face and bruises on her arms and things like that."

He said his advocacy for the nursing home is about honoring his 92-year-old mother, and also his late father’s wishes.

“I was told to take care of my mother and I feel I've let him down because I'm not," Ostrom said. “So, this is the only way I can take care of my mother is to make sure she's getting the best care that's available out there.”

His sister, Nickie Marsh, also shows up to the meetings. She’s among the dozen or so supporters who rally in in favor of the county’s continued ownership of the nursing center.

The county home, she said, provides their mother constant routine care. Something that she can’t offer her mother, who is not mobile and is losing her memory.

“When you're working full time, you don't want to have to worry about if your mom's gotten lunch or if she ate properly or if she's gotten her medication,” Marsh said. “Here (DeKalb County Rehab and Nursing Center) you know that's happening. It's comforting to us; it's comforting to my mom.”

The board voted to set aside $2.5 million in the 2024 budget in anticipation of financial shortfalls that year. The board also voted to increase the private pay rate for residents to $400 per day starting in January.

The decision comes in consultation with Jordan Healthcare, which has been advising the board on the management of the home.

While advocates praise these actions, they're less certain about the board’s long-term commitment to the center.

Madelyn Nelson speaks often at the meetings in favor of the county maintaining its nursing home. She’s previewed what she’ll be looking for as the board holds ongoing discussions on the nursing home’s future, including, she said at one meeting, “more transparency, data-based problem solving, careful consideration of outside suggestions and positive interactions with the board.”

During public comments, she’s usually the first to speak and sometimes she carries a large white binder with her that contains her research on the home.

She never had any family stay at the center but says it’s everyone’s obligation to ensure that the home is sustainable and available for those who may not have many options.

“If you're lucky and you're doing okay, you step up," she said. "And if you can't step up, then step back. Join me or get out of the way (laughs) because I'm moving forward.”

The board is expected to establish an oversight committee for the home.

Previously the county home was overseen by an Operating Board of Directors. But that was dissolved in 2021.

It’s now up to the board to decide who will sit on the committee and what authority it will have. Advocates warn the board that they will oppose any move to place folks on the oversight committee whose intentions are to see the home fail.

A Chicago native, Maria earned a Master's Degree in Public Affairs Reporting from the University of Illinois Springfield . 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 periodismo de gobierno.