The steady drumbeat of Governor Bruce Rauner"s proposed budget cuts brought state representatives, locals and health care providers to Benton Monday morning to rally against recent slashes to nursing home Medicaid funding.
Illinois nursing homes face potential cuts of $55 million for the remainder of the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. State general revenue funding accounts for 22 percent of Medicaid payments to Illinois nursing homes. Residents pay for 17 percent, nursing homes contribute 27 percent, federal matching grants make up 32 percent, and hospital and cigarette taxes pay for 2 percent of the cost of caring for nursing home residents with Medicaid.
At least five Franklin County nursing homes would be affected by the cuts, said Frank Caruso, director of post-acute services for Bridgemark Healthcare, a company offering nursing home services across Illinois.
Among the facilities that would be affected are Benton Rehabilitation and Health Care Center, Stonebridge Senior Living Center, Helia Healthcare of Benton, Westside Rehabilitation and Care Center and Frankfort Care Center.
"This was a contract with the state. It was an agreed-upon rate, and this is a unilateral cut," said Caruso. "Nursing homes won"t be able to continue to operate under such steep cuts. And there"s no hint that anything"s changing."
Further cuts are expected for the 2016 fiscal year, which begins July 1.
For South Gate Nursing and Rehabilitation in Metropolis, Illinois, the proposed cuts would equal out to a cut of about $54,000 over May and June, said Owner Sam Thompson.
Thompson said he heard rumors of the cuts about a month ago, and news of the cuts were confirmed two weeks ago.
"It"s going to be hard to stop this train," Thompson said. "We can"t cut staff because we"re federally mandated. You could call this an unfunded mandate."
To comply with federal law, nursing homes have to maintain a certain health care staff to resident ratio. With nursing homes already operating at minimum staffing ratios, maintenance and dietary staff will be the first to see the boot under the proposed cuts, said Allan Smith, the regional marketing director for Petersen Health Care, a company out of Peoria that owns and operates ten nursing homes in Southern Illinois with about 1,500 employees.
"You"re going to see cutbacks to the extra person helping out," Smith said. "Health can decline, and there will be a mortality effect over the next few years."
The cost of lower-quality care will eventually find its way back to state coffers through the cost of emergency room visits, said Amanda Spade, regional community relations coordinator for Petersen Health Care.
"When you cut care, it costs more in hospitalizations," Spade said. "The state doesn"t save that much when you look at what you"re cutting."
State Rep. Gary Forby (D-Benton) spoke at the rally in support of restoring funding to nursing home Medicaid payments.
"How can you balance a budget on the backs of people who can"t help themselves?" asked Forby. "What about the billionaires, the 50 percent and up? I"d like to see their cuts. We as a state have to survive, but this is not the right way to survive."
State Rep. John Bradley (D-Marion) also spoke about the lack of fairness in the governor"s cuts.
"These cuts are not across the board, these cuts are not fair. They"re specific. They"re deliberate. There are winners and losers. There are choices being made, and those choices do not reflect our values," Bradley said.
Pat Comstock, the executive director of the Health Care Council of Illinois, reflected the state representative"s belief that the cuts are unfair and target one of the state"s most vulnerable populations.
"We know that Illinois must reign in state spending to solve our financial crisis," Comstock said in a press release. "But we must protect funding for our nursing homes so residents have quality care, staff have fair wages and families can rest assured that their loved ones will be cared for."
Both Forby and Bradley said they would fight for Medicaid funding for nursing homes during ongoing budget negotiations in Springfield.
Debbie Wynette Walls, a certified nurse assistant at Daystar Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Cairo, said nursing home residents with Medicaid badly need the services offered to them.
"We are the people they see first thing in the morning and the last people they see when they go to bed at night. We become a part of their family," the CNA said.