BY BRIAN L. HUCHEL
Vermilion County Board Nursing Home Committee members made their choice Tuesday for the next owner of Vermilion Manor Nursing Home.
Committee members entered executive session to receive bidding prices from finalists IMG, the IDE Management group headquartered in Greenfield, Ind., and FNR Healthcare Group, which is partnering with Premier HealthCare Management.
After 10 minutes, the committee emerged and — following 30 minutes of public discussion — voted to recommend FNR Healthcare Group as the winning bidder for Vermilion Manor. The committee voted 8-2, with Daniel Walls of District 8 and John Criswell of District 5 voting no.
Committee Chairman Chris Leigh of District 1 said there were just not a lot of options remaining for the county.
“To me, this has been a positive from the beginning,” he said.
John Alexander of District 6 said he was impressed by how FNR Healthcare Group handles business at the Savoy facility he visited.
“This is a situation where the best way to keep the home operating is to turn it over to private hands,” he said.
FNR Healthcare Group has five facilities in Illinois.
The recommendation comes at a good time for the county, which has seen a drop in funds the nursing home needs to cover expenses. County Board Chairman Gary Weinard said the nursing home’s $2.4 million as of Dec. 1 had dropped as low as $680,000 on Thursday. Two recent state payments upped that to around $1 million as of Monday, but the county is dangerously close to having to stop payments on things other than food, utilities and payroll, he said.
According to information handed out to committee members, assistant state’s attorney Bill Donahue indicated FNR Healthcare Group offered a higher price as well as outlining a richer investment program to improve the nursing home.
A price from FNR Healthcare Group was not announced at Tuesday’s committee meeting. Weinard told board members that the price would not be released until a signed letter of intent has been obtained from the company. Board members received the price as part of executive session discussions.
Despite the monetary issues facing Vermilion Manor, District 5’s Criswell was staunch in his opposition to the sale of the nursing home in general. He indicated residents he talked to did not fully understand the referendum that was passed in November giving the county authority to sell the nursing home.
“Most of them have changed their mind about it now,” he told fellow committee members.
Sixty percent of voters approved the November referendum on the nursing home, which has been opened since the early 1970s.
“You’re selling a part of history,” he said prior to the vote. “You’re selling a big part of history.”
With Tuesday’s decision made, the committee will now forward its recommendation on to the full county board for discussion and possible approval. Board members have called a special meeting for June 26 to deal with the Vermilion Manor issue.
If the committee recommendation is approved, Weinard said FNR Healthcare Group could take over the Catlin-Tilton Road nursing home as early as Aug. 1.
Getting the approval, however, requires more than a simple majority vote. Weinard said a two-thirds majority is required to approve the committee recommendation. On a 27-member board, that equals out to 18 yes votes.
Illinois statutes dictate the county board must approve the sale for it to go through.
As Weinard told committee members, a “yes” vote for the sale provides a chance for the nursing home to remain in operation.
“A ‘no’ vote would be a vote to close the nursing home eventually,” he said.
As of the beginning of May, Vermilion County had received as many as five bids for the nursing home. The number of interested owners was smaller than the county had hoped for.
In recent weeks, county officials have conducted visits to operations run by each of the bidders.
In addition to the tours, both sides already have been interviewed as to their independent visions of how Vermilion Manor Nursing Home would operate. A statement on the process issued by the county indicated both demonstrated a commitment to quality care and the ability to successfully manage the nursing home in a challenging environment.