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A panel looking at the long-term viability of the McLean County Nursing Home has a big job on its hands.

Still, the idea is a solid one and any decisions, ultimately, will be determined by whether the county can afford to run a standalone facility.

The nursing home, at 901 N. Main St., Normal, is a 150-bed, skilled care facility, with 100 beds certified for Medicare residents and 50 for private pay or Medicaid. From 2013 to fall 2017, the number of residents declined from about 130 to 101, and the home has lost $1.2 million in the last year because of fewer residents and slow Medicaid reimbursement.

The nursing home, located on county-owned land north of the Fairview Aquatic Center, offers rehabilitation, skilled short- and long-term care and respite care. The building was built in the mid 1970s, but has been maintained well. It's clean, has few complaints, and residents and their families seem comfortable there.

Historically, any county-owned health facility has carried a taint of "it's for the poor" or "it's not staffed well." Neither is true of the county facility, which recently received a four-star rating (out of five) from a government rating system.

Running a nursing home is hard work and costs money, especially when your core business is government and not health care. And with the growing number of care options as baby boomers grow older, traditional standalone nursing homes are less and less common. Still, there is a need for a clean, convenient and basic service that provides help to people who rely on government insurance, or who may not have the financial resources for a more upscale facility. 

The McLean County Board, which oversees the nursing home, has asked for proposals from consultants willing to suggest improvements. Board Chairman John McIntyre told The Pantagraph he hopes the panel will provide recommendations for free so hiring a consultant won't be necessary.

"My hope is they will give us guidelines to improve our operations so we can continue to have a nursing home," said McIntyre. "There is a need in our county for a county nursing home."

Fewer and fewer counties in Illinois are in the nursing home business. As noted, they are expensive to operate and there is growing competition from private care facilities. That is certainly true in the Twin Cities.  Some county-owned homes have closed over the years, others have been sold or leased to nursing home companies.

The panel appointed by McIntyre will produce its report by April. Regardless of its findings, the county board must weigh prudent budgeting with an acknowledgment that our most frail, and longtime, residents deserve a chance for affordable nursing home care.

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