PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Senior living homes in Peoria have increasingly made lift-assist calls over the past three years. This means taxpayers are paying significantly more money.

Anytime that our firefighters get on a machine and that machine starts rolling down the street there’s a cost associated with that. 

Chief Tony Ardis, Peoria Fire Department

Lift-assist is the technical term used when paramedics use the proper technique to mobilize a person who fell and is unable to stand-up independently.

The Peoria Fire Department took over the responsibility of responding to lift-assist calls in the early 2000s. Whenever a 911 call is made to request this service, firefighters rush to the scene as they would any other.

“99 percent of the time we find them on the floor so it’s just a matter of getting them up and making sure they are okay,” Chief Ardis said.

Adding, this service takes time and resources. “It certainly does take away our manpower…,” he said.

Last year, there were 146 lift-assist calls from senior living facilities in Peoria.

According to data compiled by both Chief Ardis and the Peoria City Manager, Patrick Urich, in 2017 the estimated cost for the total lift-assist calls made by assisted living facilities was $169,997. In 2019, costs escalated, totaling $238,324. This was a $68,327 increase over three years.

“Anytime you have the fire department that responds to a call the taxpayers are paying for that service,” Urich said.

Lutheran Hillside Village is a senior living facility in Peoria. Data provided by the Peoria City Manager also shows that out of 146 total calls in 2019, Lutheran Hillside Village accounted for 55 of them.

WMBD’s Treasure Roberts exchanged emails with Craig Workman, a spokesman for the facility, inquiring why they are the most frequent callers for lift-assist services.

We generally call for outside lift-assist services less than once per month for our Assisted Living residents.

Craig Workman, Lutheran Hillside Village Spokesman

There are multiple levels of care at Lutheran Hillside Village. All are licensed by the State of Illinois, except for Independent Living.

Workman said licensing enables the facility to directly provide medical services. Assessing a resident’s medical condition after a fall and lifting them is considering providing a medical service.

We offer unlicensed areas because there are many seniors who want to enjoy living in a life plan community without the additional expense of paying for medical care they do not need.

Craig Workman, Lutheran Hillside Village Spokesman

The question remained, if they do not need medical care why has the facility made the most lift-assist calls last year?

What you have are healthcare facilities that are shifting the cost of that healthcare responsibility onto the tax payers[…]

Patrick Urich, Peoria City Manager

City leaders said this is consistently taking money from taxpayers.

The assisted living facilities are getting a disproportionate amount of our tax resources as well as attention from the fire department.

Sean Garrett, Biz PAC President

Garrett said senior living homes should be paying the Peoria Fire Department directly for the lift-assist service.

They could institute a fee that would help them recoupe some of their expenses. Additionally, that fee would drive these nursing facilities to go ahead and outsource these calls to another group.

Sean Garrett, Biz PAC President

Chief Ardis does not think being paid for this service is a bad idea.

I don’t think it’s out of touch to perhaps get compensated somehow when we respond to these type of facilities.

Chief Tony Ardis, Peoria Fire Department

Garrett is urging city leaders to enact an ordinance that would prevent what he calls “abuse of the system” and charge assisted living facilities for the lift-assist service instead of taxpayers.

That may be the next step. Urich said although there is no set plan in place adjustments could be made this year.

Cities around the country already have a plan in place to lower the amount of money coming out of taxpayers’ paychecks each year.

In Omaha Nebraska, the fire department and Mayor’s office introduced an ordinance to charge assisted living facilities and nursing care facilities $400 for each lift assist call made to first responders.