Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2013, 6:02 pm

County looks for help from Springfield to save Hope Creek

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By Eric Timmons,

ROCK ISLAND — Rock Island County officials are pushing for legislation that would allow them to reduce the number of indigent residents at Hope Creek Care Center.

As a public nursing home, Hope Creek must accept all applicants regardless of their ability to pay.

A majority of the nursing home's residents are covered by Medicaid, a government program that covers those who have exhausted most of their assets.

But county officials say the funding they get for Medicaid residents falls about $3.4 million short of the county's expenses for those residents.

The shortfall is a large part of the reason why Hope Creek is running out of money, which has prompted discussion of selling or leasing the nursing home.

By changing the state statute for county nursing homes, the county could boost its bottom line by increasing the percentage of private-pay and Medicare residents under its care.

Hope Creek Administrator Trudy Whittington said a lobbyist who works for the county nursing home association has been enlisted to find legislators who would sponsor a bill that would change the requirement.

Ms. Whittington spoke Wednesday at a meeting of a county committee formed to find ways to fix Hope Creek's finances.

There are 21 county nursing homes left in Illinois, Ms. Whittington said, and many are experiencing the same problems as Hope Creek.

She said the lobbyist working for the nursing home association is seeking to enlist lawmakers from other parts of the state first to ensure the effort has broad appeal.

Part of the reason county board members, unions and others want to keep Hope Creek as a county institution is that it must accept all applicants if beds are available.

Private nursing homes typically keep the percentage of their residents who are covered by Medicaid to 10 percent, said Rock Island County Board member Richard Brunk, D-Moline.

He said the goal of changing the requirement for county nursing homes was to give the county "flexibility." Between 130 to 140 of residents at the 245-bed Hope Creek usually are covered by Medicaid.

Mr. Brunk said the county faced a stark choice.

"Do we want to take care of 100 of our seniors, or we do not want to take care of any," he said.

Quad City Federation of Labor President Dino Leone said reducing the number of Medicaid residents at Hope Creek to save money should be a last resort.

The county board also is likely to put a question on the ballot in March that would ask the public to support paying higher property taxes to support Hope Creek.

The nursing home's accountants are predicting Hope Creek will have a $1.5 million deficit by next May and even if voters approve raising taxes the resulting revenue would not start to arrive until 2015.

There was little discussion of the possibility of leasing or selling Hope Creek at Wednesday's meeting. The option was raised by Rock Island County Board member Phil Banaszek earlier this month and still is on the table.

But Rock Island County Board member Rod Simmer, R-Rock Island, warned that if finances at Hope Creek continue to deteriorate it could be difficult to find a private owner for the nursing home.

The special Hope Creek committee will next meet on Wednesday at 3 p.m. at the Rock Island County Office Building.