Our Seniors Are Still Not For Sale

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(Josh Hartke is a lifelong progressive activist and a member of the Champaign County Board from central Champaign. He serves on the Nursing Home Board of Directors, and cared for both his father and grandmother before they passed in Nursing Homes.)

Josh Hartke

The Champaign County Nursing Home, with its long, storied history and its extensive ties to the community, is far from being the last choice for those who cannot afford the private Cadillac homes. With its tax support and the charitable support of the community, it provides so much more than the average home that it is indeed of prime quality. When you examine the home, you see that, for the price paid by private-pay residents and for the money generated by Medicaid, it really provides care that is better than most private nursing homes in the county, by almost any measure. That is more quality per dollar, and that is the entire goal of public health care.

The data are there. Public nursing homes, on a consistent basis, provide a higher quality of care in almost every measure taken nation-wide. They have fewer major infractions during inspection, lesser rates of fines, and a lower level of lawsuits laid against them by residents and their families. They often have better paid staff with higher levels of training and benefits, both things which are key to quality care measures.

Staffing is key here. At Champaign County Nursing Home, we not only provide better nursing staff with higher levels of training, but we also put more of them on the floor than almost any other local nursing home. Our ratings show this, when properly entered. Once the state corrected their data entry error, our star rating reflected this increased measure. Plus, anyone who has actually had a friend or family member stay at a nursing home, knows that the quality and caring of the individuals who work with their loved one are paramount to anything. When someone obviously cares for your family member like you do, you feel better leaving her or him at the home. That is why we continuously strive to improve our relationship with our employees and improve their levels of training and knowledge as they move forward in their career.

At the home, we also provide some very specific services that no other home on a similar cost level provides. One is a dental hygienist on staff full-time, as well as regular visits by a dentist. Those in health care, and especially those in geriatric care, know how key mouth and teeth health are to those in nursing homes. It allows them to eat with pleasure, it prevents further disease, and it is key to getting the nutrients needed by those on specific or limited diets. Regular cleanings, simple maintenance, and any necessary extractions are done by staff on site at the home, preventing the need to move any residents. That is especially important for residents with dementia.

Champaign County Nursing Home also provides onsite rehabilitation, something you will not find at private homes. This helps us to bring in Medicare patients from hospitals, which is key to maintaining financial stability, especially with constant Medicaid delays from the state. This keeps our residents out of the hospital, and it helps them get back home in many cases, and that’s where they and their families want them to be. It helps reduce wounds, and it is key to recovery from surgery, especially orthopedic. With our better-trained and higher levels of staff, the home can help folks get back to their full potential.

We also provide full-time psychological staff, which, as anyone who has had a loved one go through the experience of living in a nursing home, is key to any long term health and success of a resident. Keeping their mind healthy is as important as keeping their body so. With our professional staff and years of experience in geriatric psychology, we can provide therapy and activity, as well as medication when it is warranted.

Our in-house optometry is also key to keeping quality of life as important as basic health in our nursing home. Patients having the ability to see their family clearly during visits is key to their mental well-being. Many of our residents love to read, and keeping their glasses prescription current is very important to keeping them at their favorite pastime, especially since reading helps them to keep their mental acuity. Having a regular visit to our optometrist is a part of that.

We also have full-time Nurse Practitioners on staff who provide full levels of care every weekday, including the ability to monitor and prescribe medication. Along with our high level of Licensed Practical Nurse and Registered Nurse staffing, as well as our extremely caring Certified Nursing Assistants, we provide a level of care that is not maintained at any location that takes Medicaid patients, or that does not cost upwards of $500 per day.

There are also quite a few perks at Champaign County Nursing Home that you will not find at any similar private home. We have the General Store, where residents can pick up snacks, toiletries, and the other necessities of the day without needing to venture away from the home. We have the Beauty Salon, which provides all of our residents with hair care and the dignity that comes with looking good. We have regular outings into the community, including shopping trips, trips to the park, and visits to the movies and other events. Our social director plans onsite excitement as well, including cookouts and parties with music and lots of other activities. Birthday parties, for both staff and residents, are often everyone’s favorites.

But that again leads to the magic that is Champaign County Nursing Home. In our campaign to raise its revenue due to a manufactured crisis by the State of Illinois, we have had so many stories of the loving care people received at the home. Everyone from spouses to siblings to children have stories of how their loved one was treated at our home, and most of these stories feed directly into the people that work there. Some of those employees have been there only a few months, some longer than thirty years, but they all make a commitment to caring, they deserve the credit for what happens at the home, not the blame for financial woes caused by a failure of the state.

It therefore becomes the responsibility of the county board to step up and manage this public asset so that it does not become a private for-profit center. If it does, the very advantages that have made Champaign County Nursing Home such a special place for over a century will disappear in the name of personal profits for share-holders or board members of a private entity.

Those who stand for public health care and its many facets must unite around the home. It is our local extension of the greater progressive movement and a desire for a “Medicare for All” system, a single-payer option just like the rest of the industrialized world. Because if we do not care for our own folks in Champaign County, who will? The same people that made promises that failed in the privatization of the nursing home in Vermilion County? Not while I’m a county board member, and not while so many of my colleagues stand with me. While this election may not have worked the way we wanted, it was by no means a mandate. And as far as we are concerned, our seniors are still not for sale.

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