MONTICELLO – The Piatt County Board will decide June 8 on spending some funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to upgrade the electrical system at the county’s nursing home.
“The electrical service is not up to code,” said Piatt County Nursing Home Administrator Scott Porter while addressing the county’s finance committee last week. “It has not been up to code since 1969 when it was put in, however, as things change, the electrical system has been grandfathered in.”
Porter said in June 2017, a garbage truck hit a power line on Route 10 and power went down at the facility for 3.5 hours. The high that day was 89 degrees and as the assistant administrator at the time, he was among the officials nervous as the temperature in the facility rose.
The nursing home’s generators were unable to connect to the air conditioning unit.
The doors to the adjacent building which did have air conditioning, were opened, which slowed the rising temperatures, but regulations from the Illinois Department of Public Health mandate that the building cannot be above 80 degrees or more for more than an hour or else you are required to evacuate.
“If we had done that, the logistical nightmare of moving 77 residents with overlying health needs and without our equipment, is daunting,” he said. “The current generator is not able to meet our needs during an outage.”
During power outages now, the current generator will run the boilers, the freezers, the coolers for the food in the kitchen, the lights in the hall and probably one outlet per room and a smattering of other outlets throughout the building.
“So when the power goes out, to run the oxygen concentrators, to run CPAP machines, to run suction machines, we have to run air mattresses for people who have wounds, we have to run extension cords,” he said. “We have gotten quite good at it, but when the power goes out, we have issues.”
A grant from U.S. Representative Rodney Davis office will provide the nursing home with $215,000 to help get a new generator, but to bring the nursing home up to code and replace the electrical system, it will cost an additional estimated $402,000.
Without the upgrade, a power failure that would last for more than several hours, would force the nursing home to evacuate the residents to another site.
“We do have emergency plans in place, however, it would be a daunting task,” Porter said. “We have never had to do it.”
Porter said of the 77 residents in the nursing home, only six are able to walk on their own. A small minority of the rest can walk with assistance, but most require help even leaving their bed, he added.
“If you think about how much manpower it would take to move that number of people with the concerns they have with their oxygen and concentrators, if we can avoid that scenario, it is imperative that we do it,” he said. “I have had my eye on this project since I took over in 2017…. With Covid and the financial situation we have had, there was no way to do it.”
The county can pay for the upgrades through ARPA funds.
“I know that the board is always faced with very difficult decisions are there are always more projects than money,” he added. “However, the American Recovery Act funds were to help with the mitigation of Covid and I don’t know that there is anybody in this room and of all of the county departments, who can argue the fact that the nursing home has been impacted the most by Covid. Wearing (personal protective equipment) from head to toe for hours at a time, the shortage of staff who couldn’t take working in an environment like that, the illnesses, and frankly, the deaths. It has had a huge impact the past few years.”
A dozen residents died with Covid during the pandemic.
“This is a project that has to be done because the consequences are huge if we have an emergency,” he said.
Porter discussed the project with County Administrative Consultant Dustin Harmon of Bellwether.
“This item has great value,” Harmon told the committee, “but it does carry a significant amount of weight against the total ARPA funds. I think that this is something that should be taken seriously.”
County Engineer Eric Seibring also supported the plan.
“From my limited knowledge of electricity,” Seibring said, “I would say that he is in trouble if something happens.”
The finance committee recommended discussing the project with the full board at its June 8 meeting.