URBANA, Ill. (WCIA) — Champaign County’s largest nursing home may be up for sale for the second time in less than four years.

The private owner of the former Champaign County Nursing Home — now University Rehabilitation Center of C-U — purchased it from the county in 2019. The sale came with an agreement that the Urbana facility would continue to operate as a nursing home with existing employees through 2027.

That was written into the sale to protect the people staying and working there, County Executive Darlene Kloeppel said.

Evanston-based University Rehab Real Estate, LLC, controlled by William “Avi” Rothner, is now requesting the county remove those two covenants to allow the facility to be sold in 2023 and converted into a substance abuse disorder treatment facility, Kloeppel confirmed regarding Rothner’s “Proposed Amendment to Restrictions and Covenants to be considered by the board Tuesday night.

“They promised the county that they could make it work. Now, they’re basically saying they can’t make it work,” Claudia Lenhoff, executive director of Champaign County Health Care Consumers (CCHCC) said in reaction to the news.

The group known for counseling clients on Medicare and Medicaid-related issues in particular is asking the county not to approve the amendment to allow the sale. Lenhoff has been with the healthcare access advocacy non-profit for more than two decades and remembers the controversial 2019 public-to-corporate nursing home sale like it was yesterday.

“It was probably the most devastating situation I’ve experienced in my 25 years of working at champaign county health care consumers,” she said.

At the time, CCHCC “did a deep investigation into quality of care issues at their nursing homes,” Lenhoff said of facilities run by Rothner and his father Eric Rothner in Illinois and other states.

“My mom was very sick at that time. And I could not imagine her being in a place like the places that they operated.”

In his proposal to the county, dated Sept. 28, Rothner claimed there is an overabundance of nursing home beds at nursing homes “in the vicinity.”

“The average occupancy rate at the facilities is 68% and there are 664 excess beds available on an average day in the area,” it read.

“Trends indicate that our seniors are staying home longer, with those discharged from the
hospital returning home and receiving outpatient services or home health. This all translates into less demand for skilled beds in the region.”

“But they already knew all of those trends before they purchased the nursing home,” Lenhoff rebutted.

The nursing homes listed as “in the vicinity” of University Rehab included 18 facilities, primarily outside of Champaign County and more than 20 miles away. Adding up just the Champaign County beds, there are 643. Closing University Rehab would cut that statistic down to 400 beds.

“About 4% of Americans who are over age 65 live in nursing homes,” Lenhoff said, echoing a conservative statistic verified by multiple sources, including a publication by the National Library of Medicine.

Based on that statistic and Champaign County’s population, the county would need 1,128 beds.

Even at a more conservative 2.5% of the senior community needing care, Champaign County currently requires 705 beds.

But, why are a number of the beds vacant?

“So I think a lot of people are having to be sent outside of the community. I know that this has happened over and over to my clients,” Lenhoff said.

“If you have a nursing home that is having problems with quality of care, you’re going to get fewer patients. That’s just the reality of it. And you can actually map out some of these ratings for the quality of care with the decline in the nursing home census.”

A yellow triangle with an exclamation point shows up next to University Rehab’s Medicare.gov rating. The facility is actually ‘unrated,’ meaning it has a “history of serious quality issues” and is at risk of “termination from Medicare and Medicaid.”

Lenhoff stressed the importance of being able to place patients in facilities near family and loved ones. She shared the story of a recent patient who was transferred from a hospital in Champaign-Urbana to a nursing home 30 miles away near Danville.

“None of her friends could visit her there, because they were low-income. The bus doesn’t go there,” Lenhoff said.

“She died three days later, and she died alone. And she had a community here.”

Renée: What was the reasoning (for the patient to be transferred to a facility outside of the county)?

Lenhoff: I was talking to the discharge planners and basically, they were told by area nursing homes, that they didn’t have the staffing to accommodate her and that included University Rehab, which has 243 beds. So you know, so there’s this sort of cycle that happens that if you have understaffing, then you can’t accept as many patients, but you also can’t deliver the quality of care that people need. And then your reputation suffers, and you get fewer and fewer patients there.

As for the solution?

“It’s pretty simple,” according to Lenhoff. “You just improve the quality of care, which means hiring more people, training them well, treating them well, and delivering excellent care, and you could have more patients.”

Rothner was unable to return calls for comment Monday.

The county wasn’t able to fill beds back when they owned the facility, Kloeppel said, also agreeing the number of vacant beds would be inflated by an inability to staff them.

Substance abuse rehabilitation centers are also a need the county is facing, Kloeppel added.

The Champaign County Board’s Committee of the Whole will hear the pitch from a University Rehab Real Estate, LLC representative tomorrow. If the committee votes in favor of the amendments to the company’s agreement with the county, the proposal would move on to a final vote at the next regular board meeting expected next Thursday.

Kloeppel considered that outcome as unlikely.

As for the facility’s quality of care concerns, Kloppel said that’s out of county officials’ hands regardless of the direction of the board’s vote.

We want to hear from you. If you have, are, or would be impacted in any way by this possible sale, email us at Target3@wcia.com.