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Peoria County Board Committee Unanimously Approves First Heddington Oaks Closure Steps

The Peoria County Board Executive Committee unanimously recommended proceeding Monday with the closure process of the financially-troubled Heddington Oaks nursing home.Officials say they were unable to attract enough qualified employees and residents to keep the county-run nursing home financially viable, despite years of trying and help from both major Peoria hospital systems to boost Medicare reimbursement rates, reduce turnover, and improve operations. This included a one-year partnership with OSF's POINTcore consultancy team.

County board member Rob Reneau said he is passionate about Heddington Oaks because he spent a lot of time in the former Bel-Wood nursing home with three family members who lived there growing up and appreciated the quality of care.

"This is very personal, and this is very hard. Regardless of how this appears from everybody from the outside, this has been a very, very difficult decision. I just hope everybody knows, we really did try everything," he said.

Twenty-nine people sent letters to the committee for the public hearing on Monday. All 29 were in opposition to the facility's closure.

Board member Jimmy Dillon, whose district includes the county nursing home, said the decision to close the West Peoria facility came only after all other avenues failed. 

"This is a process of a decision of trying to save this home for the last four or five years to get here. And this is the day nobody wanted to see come. To even have this conversation," he said.

The nursing home had completely drained its reserve funds. Heddington Oaks has 214 beds, but only about 140 residents. The county also struggled to take in the average 28 Medicare residents it projected it needed to be financially sustainable.

The nursing home's low Medicare Star Rating assigned due to past regulatory violations also proved a drag on efforts to attract more residents. The rating was recently boosted from two to three stars, but officials say it came too little, too late.

The county is working with families to relocate current residents.

"It's our expressed intent to work with the resident, the resident's family members, and the other facilities in our community to find the best possible facility with a bed available for each resident as close to our community as we can possibly get," said county administrator Scott Sorrel.

The nursing home's 150 unionized employees were notified of the closure Friday. Another 20 employees are mostly non-union management employees.

The full county board will vote Thursday on whether or not to move forward with seeking permission from the state's Health Facilities and Services Review Board to close the facility. That decision likely won't come for at least a few months.

The county hopes to close Heddington Oaks by the end of 2020. Heddington Oaks opened in 2013. Peoria County's first elder-care facility opened in 1848.

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Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.