ROCK ISLAND -- Hope Creek Care Center will be put up for sale.
County board members on Tuesday voted 16-5 to authorize County Administrator Jim Snider to prepare a request for proposal (RFP) for offers on the county-owned nursing home at 4343 Kennedy Drive, East Moline.
Board members Ken "Moose" Maranda, Edna Sowards, Lauren Boswell-Loftin, Jeff Deppe and Ed Langdon opposed. Larry Burns, Brian Vyncke and David Adams abstained following a lengthy discussion.
A standing-room only crowd of more than 100 people, including many Hope Creek employees, packed the county board room. Several pleaded with board members not to sell Hope Creek.
"We are savable; we can be turned around," said Hope Creek activity aide Cheryl Campbell. "It's not going to happen overnight, but it can happen with your support and community support."
Campbell has been employed at the facility for 14 years.
"I love my job. I don't even think of it as a job," Campbell said. "We are helping your grandparents, your parents, your loved ones. You need to think about where you might be in 15 years. Hope Creek is very, very important to the community. You need to save Hope Creek. Do not vote for an RFP."
Quad City Federation of Labor President Dino Leone sternly told board members that if they sell Hope Creek, the employees and residents will suffer as a result.
"This is why we have a county nursing home; there are private sector groups that will not take low-income people," Leone said. "That is the job of government. Your job is not to sell out government. You were elected to find a way to make it work. (Gov.) Bruce Rauner was a privateer. Don't be a Bruce Rauner.
"If you privatize the nursing home, the way they make a profit is off the backs of workers," Leone said. "They cut their wages and benefits, which will hurt the continuity of care. That means you put our residents in danger. I talked to many of you on the phone and you said, 'I'm not voting for privatization, I'm voting for an RFP.'
"You are opening the door for privateers," Leone said. "Do the right thing and stand up for the residents and the workers."
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Staff Representative Audie Schmidt told board members if they sell the nursing home, the quality of care will drop.
"There are horror stories because of the profit motive," Schmidt said. "They will profit off of our elderly and our poor. Profit-driven nursing homes will take any resident, including those with police records.
"You will be abandoning your longtime staff and your county residents," Schmidt said.
The board's decision comes on the heels of a report by consulting firm Management Performance Associates (MPA) that concluded the nursing home could remain in the county's hands provided steps were taken to cut costs.
MPA Executive Vice President Scott Gima told board members at the June 12 meeting "Hope Creek is an obvious turnaround candidate," and said the facility could save up to $2 million just by cutting staff.
"While we believe Hope Creek's financial condition can improve, it will not improve fast enough to discharge liabilities of $3.8 million quickly," Gima said.
Campbell scolded board members for paying $29,000 for MPA's three-month cost benefit analysis when Hope Creek's former advisory board, made up of volunteers, had made many of the same suggestions for increasing revenue.
Snider reminded board members that Hope Creek is now $7.5 million in debt, including $2.5 million owed to vendors and $3.4 million to the county, which has been making up for shortfalls out of the general fund.
"There is no pain-free decision before us," board member Rich Morthland said. "This is why our constituents sent us here, to make the difficult decisions. I must support this. I think it is a fundamentally wise decision to make."
Gima addressed board members' questions Tuesday night.
"You said Hope Creek is a fine nursing home and that we could turn it around with the help of the union and board members," Langdon said.
"As a county-run home, we said we would take care of those who cannot take care of themselves," Vyncke said. "I do feel an obligation. If we change the payer mix, get union concessions and have better management — all three of these have to happen for this to succeed?
"That is correct," Gima said. "Let's say you create private rooms in one wing and fill up the other wing with Medicaid. Those rooms won't fill up over night. Ramping up the census takes time and that's the one factor even a strong manager can't control. Even if it takes one year, that's time Hope Creek does not have.
"The home needs cash today," Gima said. "You have vendors who have threatened to pull out because of non-payment. There is no margin for error."
Snider told board members the process of requesting proposals will take up to six months. Accepting a bid could take up to another six months. He assured that in the meantime, staff and residents will remain with the home.
"If the RFP is approved tonight, will there still be attempts to turn Hope Creek around?" Boswell-Loftin said.
"Absolutely," Snider replied.
Snider said when and if a bid comes before the board, a two-thirds supermajority will be required to approve it. He also assured board members that conditions can be put in the proposal that states certain staff will remain if the home is sold.
After the meeting, groups of Hope Creek staff gathered in the hallway, embracing one another with tears in their eyes.
"The (Hope Creek) residents deserve more than this; that's their home," Campbell said. "I can find another job. I just can't believe they would vote to sell it. There are so many ways to make money."
Hope Creek employee Sherri Ludlow said the closed wings at the facility could be opened and used to house military veterans or used for hospice care.
"We should have pride that we own that home," Campbell said. "Board members should have done something sooner."