ROCK ISLAND -- A "blue ribbon" committee has been formed to study options to save Hope Creek Care Center from financial doom.
Earlier this month, Rock Island County Board Chairman Phil Banaszek, prompted by growing financial difficulties at Hope Creek, announced the county was considering selling or leasing the nursing home.
Unions and county board members have rallied against any move to privatize the nursing home, and Mr. Banaszek has responded by establishing a special committee to look at options to improve Hope Creek's financial condition.
Rock Island County Board member Richard Brunk, D-Moline, said the committee will look at the viability of holding a referendum next March on the question of higher property taxes to support the nursing home.
Mr. Brunk also said the committee will consider a push to change state law so that county nursing homes would not have to keep their doors open to anyone covered by Medicaid.
More than 60 percent of residents at Hope Creek are covered by Medicaid, which provides assistance to the poorest nursing home residents who have exhausted the bulk of their assets.
County officials say the high numbers of Medicaid residents at Hope Creek are largely to blame for the nursing home's financial problems. State funding for Medicaid residents is lower than the county's costs.
But union and county board members say one of the reasons the county should maintain control of Hope Creek is because its doors are open to all.
Mr. Brunk said Hope Creek still would cater to poor residents even if state law was changed so that it could take in fewer Medicaid residents.
"We're are not saying that we want to do the same thing as private industry," Mr. Brunk said. "We just want to have some flexibility."
Members of the blue ribbon committee established by Mr. Banaszek include Mr. Brunk, Hope Creek Administrator Trudy Whittington and Rock Island County State's Attorney John McGehee.
Two members of the public -- Don Lind and Steve Doy -- also have been appointed to the committee.
Mr. Banaszek said he thinks a majority of the county board are in favor of putting a referendum question on the ballot next March to ask voters to pay higher taxes to support Hope Creek.
But he said the option of selling or leasing Hope Creek remained on the table as a "plan B" in case the public votes against raising taxes for the nursing home.
If there is support for higher taxes, the county likely still would have to borrow money next year to keep Hope Creek afloat until the new property tax revenue arrives, Mr. Banaszek said.
The blue ribbon committee will meet next at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Rock Island County Office Building, 1504 Third Ave., Rock Island.