Straight Talk | The end of an era of caring



The Peoria County Board approved a resolution that will allow voters to determine whether Heddington Oaks can be sold. The measure will be on the November ballot. Voters should not be confused whether their vote will determine the nursing home’s future. Board members have already voted to close the facility by the end of the year. It’s very close to being closed now. As the Community Word went to press, there were only 25 residents remaining. Employees have quit like crew members jumping off the Titanic.

If voters should surprise the county and vote against closing Heddington Oaks, what then? That makes phrasing the referendum question on the ballot crucial.

This is a sad chapter in the history of Peoria County government. The nursing home’s history dates as far back as 1848, but was not officially known as the Peoria County Nursing Home until 1948. Voters have always been highly supportive of the county’s efforts to care for our elderly. They voted in 1966 to spend over $3 million to build a 300 bed, state-of-the-art facility that became Bel-Wood Nursing Home. Subsequent tax referendums were approved by wide margins. The need for additional revenue became apparent as the number of private pay patients decreased while public aid and Medicare admissions increased. Low government reimbursements and competition from for-profit nursing homes doomed the future of the county’s facility.

To be blunt, the county board’s decision to construct a $48 million modern, but expensive home for the elderly, did not help matters. Opened in 2013, the new building was gorgeous. It was the best of the best in the area. Planners reduced bed capacity from 300 to 214 and still, administration was unable to successfully market the newly named Heddington Oaks to hospital discharge planners or the public.

It serves no purpose to assess blame. Bad decisions, bad timing and other factors contributed to the inevitable decision to close the home to stop the financial bleeding. Even with the closure, the red ink will continue with an empty building that will need high maintenance and payments on the $42 million bond that paid for its construction. As the final resident leaves the Heading Avenue building in West Peoria, the people of Peoria County can say goodbye to an era of caring for our older Americans. Meanwhile, the Peoria Civic Center received $25 million from the state to renovate some of its buildings and the County Board looks at restoring $850,000 for mental health and justice programs.

The return of the Royce rock

I never thought a memorial for anyone would ever be removed once let alone twice, but its happened with the tribute I organized for Royce Elliott, my late and dear friend. With the help of Mayor Jim Ardis and Peoria Park Board president Tim Cassidy, the one block of Evans Street between Monroe and Perry was given the honorary designation as Royce Elliott Place. I recruited a committee and raised several thousand dollars to make a beautiful plaque that was installed on a large rock for placement next to the remaining baseball diamond in Glen Oak Park.

The park board approved naming the diamond as Royce Elliott Field because that’s where the talented, nationally known, comedian played baseball for Woodruff High School and later for teams in the Sunday Morning League. The park board apparently lost interest in providing space for families and kids to play baseball or softball on the field and allowed the diamond to deteriorate to weeds and grass. That was a source of irritation because the money I raised was far more than was necessary for the plaque. Since the rock was donated, I suggested the excess funds could be used to maintain the field and perhaps remove the old backstop and install a new one. It not only didn’t happen, my request for an accounting of the money I raised was ignored.

Enter Royce’s son, Brett Elliott, former principal at Richwoods High School, and some other Peoria Public Schools educators who thought it would be a good idea to move the Royce Elliott memorial to a more public viewing area. Brett told me about the idea and I responded, “Whatever your family wants is fine with me.”

As reported last month in this column, the rock was moved to Ty Franklin baseball field at Richwoods. It wasn’t there long. At least one member of the park board objected, so did apparently someone in administration at Peoria Public Schools, and the Royce Elliott tribute was moved again, returning to its original place of remembrance.

Special thanks to the “politicians” for keeping me and other donors informed of their secret phone calls, emails and other forms of communication. Not.

Outstanding communication, but …

On the other hand, nothing but praise for Dr. Greg Stoner, medical director, and Monica Hendrickson, executive director, of the Peoria City/County Health Department. Their news conferences kept everyone informed about the coronavirus in central Illinois, specifically Peoria, Tazewell and Woodford counties. Meanwhile, local hospitals and their staffs are to be commended for their outstanding care. Administrators made sure there were plenty of ventilators and other medical supplies available to ensure the best of care for virus patients.

But, the policy of denying visiting privileges for virus patient relatives was inhumane. One man said he “dropped” his wife off at a local hospital emergency room and was denied entrance to be with her. She died three days later … alone. He was never able to be with her. Another woman told me she brought her mother to the emergency room and was also denied permission to be with her. The daughter was never able to enter the hospital until the mother recovered and demanded to be released.

After working inside a hospital for 25 years, I have high respect for healthcare workers. I believe hospitals can maintain a healthy and sterile environment. They do it everyday in surgery and should never have been denied doing non-essential surgical procedures. And spouses and/or loved ones should never have been denied any visiting privileges. There’s absolutely no medical evidence the policy saved any lives.

Quote of the month

“If we have no peace, it is because we’ve forgotten we belong to each other.” -Mother Teresa

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