Editorial: Time for Lake County’s Winchester House reaches an end

At long last, Winchester House in Libertyville has ceased usefulness for the money required to function as a public service.

That’s the inescapable calculation of those who write the checks to make Lake County’s official nursing home function.

Thus the 150 years that the county has assumed — as did most every county in Illinois — that it was duty-bound to provide care for the destitute seniors is done. It will now be turned over to someone else.

The board that administered the ever-tightened financial tourniquet fought the squeeze for 10 years and even turned the facility over to a private contractor in 2011.

But even with Medicaid subsidies, Winchester dripped $3 million annual in red ink. Though it theoretically could hold 360, the current census is 155.

Its time had run out.

So now it will be closed in hopes a private contractor will take the building, care for the current population for several years and build a replacement.

But most people want to go home, or someplace that looks like home. In 1999, nearly three-quarters of Medicaid dollars went to institutional care, only 27 percent to home- and community-based services. A decade later, spending on institutional care had declined to 55 percent, with about 45 percent going to home and community services.

A program called Money Follows the Person, adopted in 2007, and provisions in President Obama’s health reform law have accelerated that process. Now, some states spend most of their Medicaid budgets to help maintain older and disabled people in their own homes and apartments or in assisted living. Most of the rest are scrambling to follow suit.

Nursing home populations and occupancy rates have been falling for 20 years.

Winchester was born in a time when human need and deprivation touched the community’s moral conscience. It served nobly.

The state has a mixed record of providing better alternatives to institutional care because moving patients into a “home-like facility” is far more complex than finding a bed and a clean room.

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