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Take a moment to learn history of River Bluff Nursing Home before you cast your ballot

by John Butitta and Angie Goral

reprinted from the 4/30/2022 Rockford Register Star

On the June 28 primary ballot, there will be an important countywide referendum about the Winnebago County owned and operated River Bluff Nursing Home.

The advisory referendum asks the voters if they approve of an increase in the property tax levy for River Bluff, from 0.0455 cents to 0.10 cents. The annual increase to the taxpayer would be $25 for a $150,000 valued home.

When the taxpayer is faced with making a decision regarding property taxes, it is important to not only understand the cost but also know the value to the public of the specific unit of government that will be using the money.

For some, especially younger voters, it may be news that Winnebago County owns and operates a nursing home. And it is probable that most voters are not aware of how River Bluff has served Winnebago County for the last 150 years.

So a little history about River Bluff Nursing Home would be helpful for everyone to understand.

In 1853, Winnebago County purchased a farm and started the Winnebago County Poor Farm. During the years that followed it became a working farm for people who were not able to support themselves and for those deemed insane.

When residents died, the county placed a “potter’s field” cemetery on the property to bury them. Six hundred men, women and children who lived there were buried between 1853 and 1954.

Over the years that followed, nursing services were added along with other hospital services and in 1953 the facility was named the Winnebago County Hospital.

In 1956, the facility was renamed the River Bluff Nursing Home.

In 1967, Winnebago County built a 140,000 square feet building that houses the current River Bluff Nursing Home on 22 acres of land. Today, River Bluff services include: physical, occupational, speech and respiratory therapy; short term rehabilitation/post hospital; long term nursing skill; Alzheimer’s and dementia care; hospice and palliative care and wound, pain, medication, nutrition, disease management and education.

The one constant factor, from the Poor House to the current River Bluff Nursing Home, is the long history of caring for people in need.

Over the years, the name, location and buildings have changed, but it has continued to serve those in need.

Now that we understand the value of River Bluff to the county, it also noteworthy to mention that the last voter approved increase to the River Bluff Nursing Home tax levy was in 1989. This restraint in increasing the RBNH levy for 33 years, along with increased government regulation and the failure of the state government to pay reasonable rates for Medicaid patients have contributed to River Bluff being forced into annual operational deficits for years.

This has forced River Bluff’s reserve fund to be spent down to $0 and has forced the Winnebago County Board to raid other funds (i.e. general fund, host fee fund and others) to pay for the annual operational deficits.

The Winnebago County administration is projecting that River Bluff will continue to have operational deficits for at least the next few years without an increase in the levy.

The raiding of other county funds has continued to put stress on the county’s other operational funds and negatively impacts the county’s credit rating, thus causing the county more in interest expenses.

When making your decision on this important referendum question, please ask yourself what is the cost versus the value of your decision.

One way of considering the cost versus value is this: Is it worth 50 cents a week to maintain a facility that has allowed over 20,000 citizens of Winnebago County to manage the last days of their lives with care and dignity?

Please be aware that because this is a primary election, you can vote on referendum questions without having to declare for one political party. Just ask for a non-partisan ballot at the polling location or when requesting a ballot to vote by mail.

River Bluff Nursing Home has been a haven for people in need for a long time, giving a safe and dignified way of aging for many in our community. Vote yes, so it can continue to be an important resource in our community.

Angie Goral, Winnebago County Board Member, District 13, and John Butitta, Winnebago County Board Member, District 8