Sunday, December 5, 2010

County Council: The Gracedale Debate

Click HERE to watch Bernie O'Hare's video 
on Lehigh Valley Ramblings!

Posted by: Noël Jones

Those of you who follow this blog know that although I follow news on various levels and aggregate articles that I feel are relevant to our area, when I cover local politics, it is usually either the Easton Area School Board or Easton City Council. I hope to, at some point, start attending more Northampton County Council meetings again, especially since they are such good theater! Thankfully, Bernie O'Hare, host of Lehigh Valley Ramblings blog (also linked on the right side bar of this home page) covers county issues thoroughly, and he's made this hilarious

video about the Gracedale issue and two of the key personalities involved--County Executive John Stoffa and former County Council President, Ann McHale (Ron Angle is the current President, and very animated most times, but he does not make an appearance in this segment).

One major issue that the county has been hashing out is whether or not to sell the county's nursing home, Gracedale. I know that this has been an issue consistently on the Lehigh Valley Tea Party's radar and that they have been speaking up about the issue during public comments. Check Bernie's blog for past articles on this, if you're interested in more details, or here also is a recent Morning Call article by Jenna Portnoy.

The basic gist is this--the county will have to spend $6 million of our tax money to repair Gracedale, unless they sell it--in which case they could make money instead of spending money. Privatizing it would put the home in the hands of investors who have more money to provide a better facility and better care. On the other hand, the local union workers that work at the home would lose their contract (I assume that these jobs would then become non-union jobs) and are understandably worried about losing their jobs.


peterkc said...

Selling long-term assets to pay current bills is almost always a losing proposition that benefits only the buyer.

Private companies that provide nursing and other specialized care have a pretty poor record, since they eventually start raising prices and cutting services to maintain a health [or sometimes extortionate] bottom line. This is why there are so many reports of people being denied medical care and other essential services in such facilities.

The idea that private companies are inherently more efficient is a myth, partly because the ability to simply increase their prices encourages inefficiency and poor management. Some companies are, of course, very efficient, but most of these are small businesses, not the mega-corporations that run private healthcare, prisons, or care homes.

If a private operator can find ways to be more efficient, so can the County -- if the administration and council start dealing with reality instead of rhetoric. If the workers are not doing what they are paid to do, good management can take care of that without dumping the union and cutting pay. And if the current management can't manage to do that, they need to be replaced immediately.

Why is it that current thinking always seems to emphasize balancing the budget on the backs of those with the lowest incomes, while the higher-paid executives get raises and investors see increases in their return?


noel jones said...

peter--i'm confused, when you say "Why is it that current thinking always seems to emphasize balancing the budget on the backs of those with the lowest incomes, while the higher-paid executives get raises and investors see increases in their return?"

isn't asking the taxpayers--many of them seniors on fixed incomes--to pay higher taxes to plug a $6 million hole an example of that?

the taxpayers are being hit all over--the school district and the county both want to raise taxes, and when many taxpayers have already taken pay cuts, or lost their jobs altogether, or are working multiple part-time jobs trying not to go into foreclosure or lose their health care (or are seniors choosing daily between food and medicine, or splitting their dosages in half) aren't these the backs of the lowest incomes? go any lower than that and we're on public assistance, in which case people can get a new house in Neston Heights or food stamps to pay for food, or free weatherization for their houses in the West Ward to keep utilities down--but for the struggling middle class there is nothing, and we are getting squeezed more and more every day to balance the wasteful budgets of our local government and pushed closer to the poverty line daily.

Anonymous said...

Got to agree with Peterkc on the tendency of private corporations to maximize their profits and cut services and quality of product. Its happening all over with everhthing. Especially sad for those young and old who have difficulty being "heard" in this society. Even high end places like Moravian Village where they have continuing care are scary - high staff turnover, when a job is cut they don't replace they add it on to someone elses job, food that is institutional and filled with salt, even outsiders that go to their rehabilitation center if they come out report that its scary. This is a high end place run by a corporation. On the other hand, Stoffa is smart and has probably researched this pretty good. But yeah, if they think a company can do it better why cant the county do it better. Replace the management. Wish Moravian Village could do that because management takes the money and turns a deaf ear. By the way, its not run by Moravians - the name is just a corporate trick.

Anonymous said...

Today I have been contemplating the fate of an 89 year old gentleman who was given a pace maker a few years ago. Everything is failing at this point, he cant walk, he cant talk, he cant hear. He falls. To see him in the midst of some of his slightly younger peers you know his heart is breaking because he cannot participate and yet thanks to the money machine of medicine in this country that heart keeps pumping. And in the meantime corporations get paid to house, feed and medicate him. A friend said, "Alive but not well, that is the goal these corporations have for every single one of us. As long as we are alive but not well they make money." Corporations intervene, define, limit and violate us where ever you turn.

noel jones said...

Bernie--thanks for posting--I was wondering about whether or not the building would be sold with a covenant of some sort--so that has already been discussed?

Also, do you happen to have the link handy that rates the various public and private nursing homes that you mentioned? That would be a good tool to have on hand for this debate.

I think most people on either side of this debate care about the quality of care the residents will get there under either scenario, and just have different perspectives on who will provide the best care.

As for Anon 4:42 who said: "Alive but not well, that is the goal these corporations have for every single one of us. As long as we are alive but not well they make money" -- that is an idea that has troubled me greatly, ever since a relative of mine who used to work for Pfizer told me about the conferences she attended focused on what Pfizer calls, "The Golden Age"--referring to the years of a person's life between 100 and 130, and how Pfizer expects to have drugs and methods available by 2030 that will keep us alive that long, those last three decades being the most expensive of any one life. This is a terrifying idea to me--the idea that at 65 one might only be at the midpoint of one's life--that we might in fact spend 6 decades over the age of 60--all to provide a new economic boon for various health care companies.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Noel, I did post a comment, a rather lengthy one, and it seems to have disappeared. Let me try to state it more succinctly.

1) Selling fixed assets to pay current bills. - That is not what is going on at Gracedale. A fixed asset is being sold because it is becoming a fixed liability.

2) Private companies have poor record. - Untrue. There are 40 nursing homes w/in a 25 mile radius of Easton. The highest rated homes are private. Gracedale, at three stars, is rated average. In the area of health inspections, it is less tan average. Here is the link from Medicare for any comparisons you want to make.

3) The County just needs to be more efficient. - No matter how efficient the County is, it will be reimbursed less by Medicare and Medicaid than private business. If Gracedale were privately owned, it would receive $4.6 million more in reimbursements this year. No matter how efficient, Gracedale must pay benefits that are 70% of salary, including a defined benefit pension whose cost has sky-rocketed 1770% (not a typo) in the past few years.

4) The trend right now is against nursing homes and assisted living. For that reason, they have to provide a high quality of care just to be competitive.

5) John Stoffa spent his career in Human Services, cares deeply about people, and will not sign any agreement of sale unless convinced beyond any reasonable doubt that indigents will be provided for and quality of care is high. There will be contractual language with very specific remedies and it will be made part of the deed, binding future owners.

6) Instead of being driven by disdain for private business or love of unions, the sole factors that should be considered are (1) indigent care and (2) quality of care. John Stoffa wants to sell Gracedale bc the County is unable to pay for the same level of care enjoyed by residents. In other words, selling Gracedale will save it.

noel jones said...

Bernie--strong arguments--thanks for the thorough posts--and the link. I will go check out the link when I'm not so sleepy...

noel jones said...

The latest--the county has decided to sell:,0,4743869.story