The People's Tribune

Vandalia Tri-County Care Center’s Board Addresses Concerns

Board Members discuss issues and address concerns during the special session of the Tri-County Nursing Home District

Emotions ran high during the Tri-County Care Center’s (TCCC) Board meeting on Wed, Sept. 1. 

TCCC’s five board members along with Administrator Megan Elledge held the special open forum session with 20 people in attendance at 8:30 that morning to express frustrations, concerns, and support for the facility. 

TCCC has come under fire recently with two wrongful death lawsuits filed against it and several employees by the families of former residents. One of those was the family of former Vandalia Alderman, Dempsey Eugene Dixon who died of COVID-19 complications after staying at the facility. 

Accusations of neglect and calls for the facility’s administrator, Elledge, to step down kicked off the emotion-fueled meeting after board president Connie Hesse opened for public discussion. 

“Things at TCCC have not been going well in the last year or two years,” Carla Wortman addressed the audience. “I tried to give everyone the benefit of the doubt as it was a new administration who were trying to get everything done. That didn’t happen, and it’s not happening now.” 

Carla Wortman addresses the board and audience about why she moved her parents from TCCC to another facility earlier this year.

Nearly in tears, she described a situation where call lights were going unanswered for long durations and that after multiple meetings with the administration, positive changes would only last a short time before returning to the previous state. 

“It was with sheer heartbreak that I moved my mom and dad out of Tri-County Care Center,” she continued. “Where I had hoped they could have some kind peace in life and not wanting to come home. But that’s not happening there. That’s why we left and will not be back until the administration has changed.”

Elledge has been with the facility for several years as a physical therapist and director of rehabilitation. She took over the position of Administrator at TCCC in September of 2019.

Some in the audience shared similar concerns and said that Wortman was a voice for residents with no other options and could not attend the meeting.

Caretakers at the facility said the claims weren’t true. In fact, several employees of the care center attended the meeting to dispute those claims and support the board and administration. 

Caregivers and staff of TCCC wait for their turn to speak at the Sept. 1, 2021 meeting.

“I’ve been here forty-one years, going on forty-two,” one TCCC employee said. “We take care of those people. I love them dearly. We’re here because we care.” 

According to another caretaker, Chris Clark, they’ve accommodated the residents by changing time schedules as needed, however families and residents still needed to be patient since there were multiple residents and limited staff. 

“I’m here to tell everyone, ‘I will not go anywhere else but this nursing home,” Clark continued amongst approving nods from her co-workers. “I won’t work anywhere else. Those are my kids and that’s the way everyone in this room is. That’s why we’re all here. To show a united front that we’re going to continue to stand.” 

“I’ve been there thirty years,” Another caretaker added. “I’ve spent three months out of tri-county because I was sick, and I was ready to come back. I love those residents.”

Wortman admitted that none of the employees in attendance were the source of her frustration. 

“A big part of the problem here is that we’re short-handed,” Board member Mick Hayden explained. “This COVID, it’s like nothing we’ve ever seen before. If you know anyone here who wants a job, then we can help you.” 

Hayden also expressed how Facebook and other social media platforms are adding fuel to false rumors.   

“Social media is no longer what it was meant for, so please use a filter when you read some of the rumors. If you can lend a hand in any way, see Megan. Nurses coming out of school can go to a doctor’s office, hospital, almost anywhere and get paid more than they can at a nursing home. God bless these people who are trying to keep up with the load they’re carrying. So, please try to be understanding.”

He went on to describe his own experiences with the facility.

“I understand when it’s grandma or mom or dad out there and they aren’t getting the help you feel they should. I understand that.” Hayden continued. “I had my mother out there for a while. There were moments when I thought she could get something better than this, but I realized the nurses were waiting on other residents.” 

According to board members, the nursing center has seen a significant drop in residents since the beginning of COVID-19. Before the pandemic, they had 90 residents. That number has dropped to about 60. 

“We’re a nonprofit, but we still have to pay our bills,” Hayden explained. “Right now, we’re having difficulty with that because of the low census.”   

A financial statement was not available at the special board meeting.

“I want to say we are at eighty-eight,” TCCC administrator, Megan Elledge, answered when asked how many staff were employed at the facility. “That includes full-time, part-time, and PR staff.” 

Tri-County Care Center Administrator, Megan Elledge (center), listens to concerns from both resident’s family members and the facility staff.

According to Elledge, the facility had 120 staff members which included 13 women offenders from WERDCC prior to COVID.

WERDCC is only able to provide two now. 

“Some of those staff have been here as long as others have been, so why have they left?” Another concerned family member asked referencing the rapid loss of staff. 

“It’s a tough job,” Elledge started. 

“I understand that,” the concerned family member said. “A lot of those who left are tough people,” 

“A lot of those people left because of the rumors circulating throughout Vandalia,” another caretaker from the facility added. “A lot of it is the bad publicity that we’re getting. This lady [she pointed to Elledge], I’ve seen what she’s dealt with, and I wouldn’t want her job, not in a million years. She does try to fix things.” 

Elledge continued by saying that some employees at the facility were terminated for various reasons, but also that COVID along with employee burnout were also factors. 

Travis Case, a worker who has been with the facility since last December added. “It’s a tough life. I’ve seen all these girls walking around like zombies because they’ve been there so long. Guess what, they’re going to be there again the next day.” 

He went on to discuss the possible issue of the staffing shortage. 

“Let’s address the problem,” Case said. “You can’t pay a CNA (certified nurse assistant) less than a McDonald’s worker. You have to take a leap of faith [he said directly to the board]. You have to pay the best, but you also have to expect the best. Tri-County used to set the standard for nursing homes in the area. We can get there again. Vandalia needs Tri-County, and we need Vandalia.” 

The staffing shortage at nursing facilities is nothing new and it’s mirrored throughout the US.  

As mentioned by other nurses in the room, it’s only getting worse and has caused some of the long waits for residents and the frustration of their loved ones. 

A St. Louis Post Dispatch article from August noted that “[h]undreds of nursing homes nationwide have inadequate staffing levels, according to payroll data collected by Medicare and analyzed by Kaiser Health News. In Missouri, 112 skilled nursing homes have staff levels below or well below the national average. 

What’s worse, according to Elledge, the state of Missouri considers Tri-County Care Center to be overstaffed. 

Another dilemma the facility faces is that it’s a county-funded home, where much of Audrain’s population is centered in Mexico which has its own residential care facilities. 

“The nursing home is owned by the county, so we get a little bit of tax money from Audrain, Ralls, and Pike,” Elledge explained. “The problem we face is that most other county-owned homes in the state get tax money from their entire county – we do not get all of ours. We only get money from the school district.” 

Another hit the facility will be the closure of the assisted living portion of Tri-County Care which had five residents.

“We are closing RCF temporarily because we did not have the staffing to take care of them over there,” Elledge explained. “Did I or the board want to close it? Absolutely not. I think that’s where a lot of the rumors started about closing. We have one year to fulfill that certificate of need, so if I can get six to eight residents to move back over there, then we’ll have it back open and running. Temporarily all the residents who were there have been relocated.” 

That portion of the facility is slated to close on Sept. 10.

When asked how the community could help? Members said they could use volunteers when the facility has been opened back up to the public.  

“I’ve reached out to the county commissioners who have been overly gracious,” Elledge said. “The county has given us a substantial amount of money to buy us time. I’ve been working with others on a plan B, which lots of homes are already at.”

Board members asked the public to contact Elledge or themselves if they were concerned about any rumors.

Elledge encouraged the community to become involved at the home when the facility is not under any COVID restrictions.

As for rumors of the facility shutting down, Elledge shook her head.

“Tri-County is not going to close while I’m there.” 

Administrator Megan Elledge stands with board members for Tri-County Care Center.

The People’s Tribune will update this article with new information as follow-up questions are answered. A financial statement was also not available at the special board meeting.

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