Conservative or Liberal, Deist or Pagan, Jersey transplant or Lehigh Valley native, we're all in this mess together. Let's talk. Let us do no harm. Today's one-liner: "The shortest way to the distinguishing excellence of any writer is through his hostile critics." Richard LeGallienne
Friday, July 22, 2011
Marcus Paints Bleak Picture of Gracedale, Human Services, in Meeting With State Legislators
Bob Freeman, Marcia Hahn & Julie Harhart in Star Chamber
As a County-owned nursing home, Gracedale gets less money from Medicare and Medicaid than it would if it were privately owned. Last year, it received $4.3 million less. In 2009, it was $3.1 million less than would be paid to a private owner. So after the May plebiscite in which voters decided, 3 to 1, against a sale, one of County Council's first moves was to invite state legislators to discuss those reimbursement rates. That meeting finally happened yesterday, at a combined Intergovernmental and Human Services Committee chaired by Peg Ferraro. And legislators came.
State Rep. Bob Freeman was there, along with Joe Emrick, Marcia Hahn and Julie Harhart. State Rep. Joe Brennan sent Matt Recker, and State Senators Pat Browne and Bob Mensch had aides on hand as well. But instead of turning on the heat on an already hot day, it took Human Services Director Ross Marcus most of an hour just to lay out the problems. Unfortunately, they go well beyond Gracedale and into other areas of Human Services.
Peg Ferraro set the tone. "The more I study this, the less I seem to know," she said at the onset. I thought that was an incredibly ignorant thing to say, but as the meeting progressed, I was forced to agree.
Reimbursement Rate Changes
As Marcus explained it, these changes first occurred when the 2006-2007 state budget was adopted. One reimbursement formula is used for government-owned nursing homes, while another and higher rate is paid to privately-owned facilities. Governments were frozen at the rates that existed in April 2006, although there have been cost of living adjustments.
Private nursing homes tend to get more money, but it's more complicated than that. Their reimbursements are based on their "case mix," in which patients requiring skilled care qualify for higher rates than those whose needs are more basic.
As an example, Marcus mentioned Alzheimers' patients. They do poorly if reimbursement is based on a "case mix" formula because the demand for skilled care is low. As a result, private homes have little incentive to admit these patients. A government-owned nursing home, reimbursed under a different formula, might actually do better for that type of patient. So the argument is that this different rate will enable the County "to remain true to its mission."
But overall, counties are compensated less than privately-owned homes.
Although state legislators spent most of their time listening, Bob Freeman did note that new legislation gives the Secretary of DPW "sweeping power" to set rates, so things could actually get worse. But as things stand, reimbursement rates are essentially frozen, prompting Joe Emrick to ask, "You said this was to protect the County home?"
It's confusing, and after hearing Marcus explain that the County can get a "case mix" reimbursement for certain types of care, he seemed even more mystified. "It's a very complicated thing."
Quality of care at Gracedale Praised
Ross Marcus told legislators that Gracedale budgets 3.2 hours of nursing per resident per day. Bob Freeman noted he deals with many seniors who tell him that if they have to go to a nursing home, they want it to be Gracedale.
Is More Parity Possible?
Before the meeting was over, Mike Dowd asked legislators "to even the playing field. The taxpayers have to have some relief." Ferraro echoed Dowd. "Just bring us a little more parity," she asked. Although legislators do have the power to make changes, Julie Harhart noted that the budget for this year has already been adopted. So even if relief is possible, it's at least a year away.
And is relief possible? After the meeting, several legislators told me the numbers they get are not the numbers they are hearing from the County.
Cuts Extend Beyond Gracedale.
Unfortunately, state funding cuts begin, and do not end at Gracedale. Marcus told Council members and legislators that the Human Services Development Fund has been cut 36-37 per cent in the most recent budget. Over the last few years, those cuts are 70 per cent.
Northampton County, like most other counties, paid for 10% of most human services. The rest was covered by state and federal government. But this year, Northampton County will pick up 26.5 per cent of the tab. And it has to do it or more children will be abused. Harhart seemed especially distressed by this revelation, and told everyone she is sponsoring a resolution to scrutinize C&Y programs
For mental health programs, the county contribution in 2012 will likely double. "It's not good news anywhere along the line," commented Marcus.
The Area Agency on Aging, which provides home health care, senior centers and other services that allow the elderly to remain in their homes, is a shadow of its former self. Marcus told everyone the picture "is bleak," with almost no match to the County. For many year, the County was kicking in $300,000 to 400,000 annually. Executive Stoffa increased the allocation to $800,000, but has been forced to reduce it to $600,000 as a result of other budget demands.
Council members Mike Dowd, Bruce Gilbert, Peg Ferraro, John Cusick and Tom Dietrich particaated in yesterday's meeting, along with Executive John Stoffa.