"So how are things at Gracedale?" asked one of the ladies, the way someone asks about a fatal illness.
"I don't really know," answered the other, in a sad voice. "They won't tell us anything. I just hope I don't lose my job."
Well, I don't think this lady has reason to fear. At Wednesday's Finance Committee meeting, I learned a few things about Gracedale. County Exec John Stoffa added a few salient details last night, during a meeting of County Council.
1) Consultant. - Four consultants will be asked to prepare requests for proposals to study Gracedale, and those should be reviewed sometime next month.
2) Deficit. - Although Gracedale was $6.29 million in the red last year, that's about $3 million less than was projected. Human Services Director Ross Marcus believes this is because the nursing home's staff have been aggressively pursuing Medicare reimbursements.
3) Marketing. - Marcus has suggested the County devote more energy to marketing Gracedale, and a private firm (I do not have the name) has volunteered its time to come up with a plan. Council Prez Ron Angle suggested renaming the facility to something like Happy Valley, and other Council members suggested adding babbling brooks.
4) Residency Requirement. - Council member Lamont McClure suggested the County abolish its residency requirement, but Stoffa has already done that.
5) Capacity. - According to Stoffa, "We have 725 beds. We're running about 650 patients, so there's another 75 patients we could take in. I have been told we can do that without hiring additional staff."
No decision to abolish Gracedale has been made, and the County's efforts appear to be directed at improving its efficiency. But even a supporter like Lamont McClure acknowledged that, if the nursing home sustains heavy losses year after year, it would be unfair to taxpayers to continue support.
The strongest arguments against Gracedale were made at last night's Council meeting by Forks Tp curmudgeon Ken Nagy. He notes that Gracedale is ranked by the Federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services as "below average," or two stars out of five. He's right, too. In contrast, Lehigh County's Cedarbrook has an "above average" rating, with four stars out of five. Of the thirty-eight nursing homes within a 25-mile radius of Nazareth, Gracedale is among one of eleven with "below average" or "much below average" ratings.
"Basically, what we're doing here is paying a Cadillac price for a Yugo."
Nagy notes that of the 50 counties who had nursing homes, only 34 remain. They are hampered by old buildings in constant need of repair, diminishing state and federal funds and increasing labor costs.