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Peoria County Board approves sale of Heddington Oaks to UnityPoint Health

UnityPoint Health regional president and CEO Dr. Keith Knepp speaks to the Peoria County Board on March 10, 2022.
Peoria County government livestream
UnityPoint Health regional president and CEO Dr. Keith Knepp speaks to the Peoria County Board on March 10, 2022.

The Peoria County Board has unanimously approved the sale of the former Heddington Oaks nursing home to UnityPoint Health-Methodist to convert into a behavioral health treatment center for youth.

UnityPoint Health-Central Illinois president Dr. Keith Knepp said the healthcare organization sees the Heddington Oaks purchase as an opportunity to strengthen their commitment to behavioral health services in the region.

Martha Herm, the past chair of UnityPlace, said space constraints force referrals to out-of-town facilities for treatment - some, as far away as Chicago.

"Heddington will give us room to increase our capacity so that we can treat all of our children here in the place that they live, and that their treatment can include simultaneous work with their parents or guardians. That's really important," said Herm.

Knepp said there wasn't enough space for youth and adolescent behavioral treatment in Peoria even before the exacerbating factor of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"There's never been a greater need for those services here in our community than there is today," said Knepp.

UnityPoint will pay between $8 to 10 million for the West Peoria facility, depending on the amount of state and federal funding they can secure. That's far less than the $42 million in bonds issued in 2011 to pay for its construction. $37.2 million worth of principal still remains on that debt.

County board member Rob Reneau said he struggles to accept the low sale price, and that Peoria County taxpayers are still on the hook for a building they no longer own. But he said he also recognizes the need for youth behavioral health services.

"The services this facility is intended to provide are critical," he said. "So after much thought, use of the facility is the sole reason I am able to support this resolution."

Knepp said he understands the investment the county made into Heddington Oaks, but he said UnityPoint will have to make its own investments into the space to convert it to behavioral health treatment.

"We're going to need to make an additional multimillion dollar investments to really bring about the renovations that the facility needs to meet the goals of this project," Knepp said.

Board member Dr. Eden Blair said UnityPoint's proposed youth behavioral health center is much-needed for the region.

"I know it hurts to just leave money on the table since we will be paying these bonds for a long time, but we can't be beholden to decisions made over ten years ago," Blair said. "I think this is the best financial option that we have."

The county will use proceeds from the sale and $7.5 million dollars from the general fund to make a large down payment on the remaining debt during refinancing. That keeps the overall taxpayer burden at the current six cents per $100 of assessed property value.

"If we did nothing, we would have to have additional funds coming from somewhere because we cannot pay this debt that we have off, so in that regard, it makes financial sense to do this the best that we can to at least reduce the burden on the taxpayer," said board vice chairman Jim Fennell.

County board member Phil Salzer said voting to close the nursing home in 2020 was one of the hardest votes he's ever taken on the county board. But he said he recognizes the need for more youth behavioral health services in Peoria County.

"I think it's really going to be one of the best sources for children throughout the community," Salzer said. "And we can't let that building sit empty."

UnityPoint Health is expected to release more details about its plans for Heddington Oaks on Friday.

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Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.