Sunday, May 15, 2011

On the Ballot Tuesday: To Sell or Not to Sell the County's Gracedale Nursing Home

Posted by: Noël Jones

There will be a referendum on the ballot on Tuesday, asking people if they want to keep or sell Gracedale, the county nursing home. The county has found a buyer, and that buyer would continue the home as a nursing home. I am no expert on this issue--for in depth coverage I recommend checking out Bernie O'Hare's blog Lehigh Valley Ramblings, as he has posted about many Northampton County meetings where this issue has been a bone of contention for months now. 

The general gist, I gather, is that proponents of the sale think it's a great way to offload the facility, which is losing the county money every year and would require more tax hikes to maintain. The sale would in fact increase revenues so that the county could decrease taxes. The Tea Party is in favor of this and has been attending the county meetings regularly, as has Bernie.

The opponents to the sale, are afraid that low-income elderly clients will get kicked out if they can't pay. They are also scared that all of the
employees will lose their jobs. The union for the workers has been strongly opposed to this.

I also heard an idea from someone that the county could keep the facility, and hire a management company to run it, but that is not one of the options on the ballot.

The Lehigh Valley Tea Party has prepared a helpful guide on the issue of Gracedale, with comments in favor of the sale posted by our County Executive John Stoffa and comments opposed to the sale posted by Reverend Mario Martinez, a spokesman for the Coalition of Alzheimers Families. For those of you who squirm at the idea of the Tea Party, keep in mind that John Stoffa is a Democrat. The guide covers all the key questions, and Stoffa gives very thorough answers to a lot of the concerns that people opposed to the sale have brought up to me in conversation. The buyer would continue to accept medicare, no one would get kicked out, and they are going to use most of the same workers, if those workers are interested after the sale. Please check it out before voting on Tuesday if you are not up to speed on this issue!


Anonymous said...

So those in favor of selling have rational coherent arguments and those who would like to keep it county-owned are "afraid" and "scared". Is that it? Wow. Way to research the issue.

noel jones said...

This is simply a Q & A that our county executive, who is a democrat responded to at length, so even though the responses of the reverend are limited, the county executives answers alone are of value. How often do residents get the opportunity to get direct answers to specific questions from their county executive on one issue?

I agree, that I would rather have seen someone from the union making lengthier responses explaining their concerns, and they are welcome to do so here (I hope they will) as they seem to be leading the opposition to selling.

But nothing changes the fact that Stoffa's answers address the biggest concerns on the table. The only way that these answers could not be valuable is if they are outright lies, and if anyone is ready to allege THAT, they had better be ready to back it up with something.

Cathy said...

I believe Northampton County tax payers have paid their taxes for years in the belief that some safety net would be there for them in their old age should they not be able to afford private care. For profit companies are about profit. Duh. Even in the high end private care facilities for the aging in the Lehigh Valley they cut where ever they can to produce a profit. Its not just about union jobs. Its about the quality of food given to the elderly (talk about sugary, talk about salt, talk about institutional...and yet of course they have a "chef") Its about the credentials and high turn over in persons they employ. Do you really believe these promises being made? - Is it in the contract? Even if it is, how do you ever get some one on the phone to tell them they are not honoring the contract? Even then, they can simply not feel obliged to honor anything. Are you going to sue? Quess what the Supreme just made that really hard to do. We need to open our eyes to the world we are currently living in - care and profit are not compatible motives (despite the advertising that tries to tell you it can be.) Elderly people should not be put in the hands of corporations. Yes it is a trend Mr. Stoffa, but that doesn't make it right. How a society treats its very young and its very old tells alot. Lets not privatize, lets take responsibility for our own.

noel jones said...

Does anyone know if there is a covenant attached to this sale?

noel jones said...

here is a Morning Call article on Gracedale with polling results:

In this article, the reasons for not selling the facility are again very vague. Cathy's argument is much more clear--what insurance do we have that the private company will keep their word? Is the facility being sold with a covenant that requires them to keep their word?

The polling results show that almost a full 1/3 of people polled are not sure which way to vote...

noel jones said...

Ok, I looked again through the guide that is linked near the end of this post, and it does seem that there is a covenant of some sort written into the deal--here's why I think so:

Will the buyer accept Medicaid patients?

Stoffa: Yes, the buyer has agreed to accept Medicaid as the primary source of payment when the residents do not have any other form of third party reimbursement. The buyer has a high commitment to Medicaid patients. Eighty percent of its present residents in its nursing home are reimbursed by Medicaid.

What about indigent patients?

Stoffa: The County insisted and the buyer agreed to insure that Gracedale continues to be accessible to indigent County residents. The buyer does not presently have any means testing for their facilities, and they cannot in the future have any income/asset-based admissions requirement for Gracedale. The buyer regularly accepts residents before their Medicaid payments are even approved. The buyer has further committed to a binding contractual provision that it will maintain at least eighty-five percent of Gracedale’s current census as Medicaid residents. These commitments will be placed in the deed of sale.

i think "a binding contractual provision...placed in the deed of sale" covers sounds like Stoffa has been pretty thorough in looking out for the elderly of our area in this scenario.

noel jones said...

This ballot measure passed, so the county will not sell Gracedale, but now has to face a possible shutdown of the facility unless the union is willing to make some big concessions, in addition to a large tax hike on residents to keep it going.