The other six Council members went against the administration, Gracedale's management, the Gracedale Advisory Board and even the so-called Coalition of Alzheimer Families, whom I prefer to call the Gracedale Goons.
What I found interesting is that Nazareth Ambulance employees came and spoke, as they did a few months ago. I was particularly impressed by Lois Sutliff, who explained that they know the residents and can often tell when something is wrong, even when the nurses don't see it. "We might be a small company, but we know those patients," she said in a breaking voice. "We care about those patients."
Numerous Lifestar employees were on hand, too, but not one of them spoke. They did not come to the meeting in their own cars, but drove about a dozen Lifestar ambulances. Their attendance was obviously orchestrated, and I suspect they were probably compensated for their time.
Peg Ferraro, who spoke forcefully against the bid, was obviously concerned about her voting base in Nazareth. She denied that, stating she would have the same concerns anywhere else. Even Portland. But then she called out to County Council candidates in the audience, noting that these are the kinds of tough decisions that have to be made. This year's election was obviously very much on her mind, no matter how much she protested to the contrary.
Much more persuasive was Ken Kraft. His Bethlehem District includes 100 Lifestar employees, so it would be politically expedient for him to go with them. But he noted that he ran for office on a platform of bringing jobs to the County, and this would have the opposite effect. "I would be closing a company by going with a bid I consider low ball," he reasoned. He noted his decision would not put Lifestar out of business.
The most persuasive, at least to me, was the usually quiet Barb Thierry. Disgusted with politics, she's leaving at the end of the year. She's a conservative Republican, so I expected her to go with the low ball. But she went the other way, and this is what she said.
"I understand Lifestar delivers the best bang for the buck. But what about three years from now, when Lifestar has no competitors and it is free to charge what it wants? What about the personal relationships that have been fostered by members of Nazareth Ambulance and residents of Gracedale? How can we sever those tie without affecting the quality of service to residents?I think it's important to note that, as cost-savings measures go into effect at Gracedale and $2.5 million in worker benefits have been returned to County coffers, it is apparent that the quality of care has suffered. The latest Medicare ratings give the nursing home just two stars, which is "below average" and far below the four stars at Cedarbrook.
"I voted to sell Gracedale because I felt that was the only way to ensure the best quality of care to residents in the long run. That same concern prompts me to vote against Lifestar."
In the face of this reality, Councilman Bob Werner ticked off a list of items that he claims makes Gracedale better. Funny how that never translated to better ratings. Human Service Director Ross Marcus claims that the two stars is a "good thing," a result of "better reporting."
Ask Tom Muller in Lehigh County if he would call two stars at Cedarbrook a good thing.
I do agree that this vote was a very tough call, and I know it exasperated Ross Marcus, who later snarked Council about not listening to their own nursing home administrator.
But aside from all the merits of both companies, I'd add this - you just don't mess with Nazareth. Cross them and they'll bombard you with Moravian Sugar Cakes and hit you with red roses. Their residents are extremely nasty, which is mostly the result of eating copious amounts of red meat. Had the vote gone the other way, Borough Council was ready to confiscate all County TVs.