Panels Suggest Staffing Layoffs County to Hear Proposal for Cuts at Winchester House

Article excerpt

Byline: Mick Zawislak Daily Herald Staff Writer

The arguments were heartfelt, but the bottom line prevailed Wednesday and two county board committees recommended layoffs at Winchester House.

The plan will affect about 20 percent of the staff, excluding nurses.

Technically, the committees were voting on the 2006-07 budget for the county-run nursing home in Libertyville. But the care and needs of the elderly, as well as the county's mission to the public, were at the core of what became a gut-wrenching decision.

"No one has ever questioned the dedication of the staff - you do care and we understand that," county administrator Barry Burton told about a dozen workers and union representatives who attended the three-hour joint session. "We're a government. We're not a business, but we have to make business decisions."

The operating plan, which will be recommended to the full county board for a vote Nov. 8, calls for the reduction of 43 full-time and nine part-time positions, and elimination of about 30 full-time equivalent slots that have been vacant and left unfilled.

The cuts, to be in place by Dec. 1, are expected to save about $3 million a year.

Administrators said patient care would not be affected, and staff levels for nurses and nursing assistants will remain well above state minimums.

The proposal, recommended by the health and human services and financial and administrative committees, drew the ire of a union, which represents about 300 Winchester employees.

"Now we go after the full board. Lobby them," Matthew LaPierre, staff representative for Council 31 of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees said after the votes.

Earlier, LaPierre told committee members the union wasn't disputing the vacant positions, but said front-line workers should be kept.

"Our folks are finally getting close to a tolerable workload," he said. "You can't expect us to dig you out of a budget hole with a gun to our head. …