About Me

My photo
Nazareth, Pa., United States

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

LV Health Department Placed in Induced Coma

For the second time in six months, the Lehigh Valley Health Commission has done its best to drive a stake through the heart of the fledgling Lehigh Valley Health Department. In July, it spurned a budget requiring $500,000 annual contributions from each county. It went a step further at a meeting hosted by Lehigh County in Allentown on January 10, refusing to allow the department to spend any money at all, even donations from the Two Rivers Health and Wellness Foundation and The Dorothy Rider Pool Trust. Unable to do anything on its own, the LV Health Dep't is in an induced coma.

What the hell is The Lehigh Valley Health Commission?

It's actually the combined legislatures of Lehigh and Northampton County. Under state law, every action taken must have the blessing of a majority from each county. Although Lehigh County Commissioners have steadfastly supported bi-county health department proposals, Northampton County Council has just as readily supplied a veto. Ironically, the body that first proposed a bi-county health department in 2007, voted against allowing it to spend a dime in a 5-4 vote last night. Northampton County Council members Ron Angle, Tom Dietrich, Bruce Gilbert, Lamont McClure and Barb Thierry all voted No, joined by Lehigh County Commissioners Dean Browning, Tom Creighton and Glenn Eckhart.

Andy Roman, a Lehigh County Commissioner, was the sole absentee from either County. Hey, it's an election year, and Andy can't risk letting the tea party ... or Scott Ott ... or Wayne Woodman know that he really supports this proposal.

Before the vote, many of the concerns expressed six months ago were repeated. Most remain unresolved.

Glenn "Commissioner No" Eckhart (Leh.) questioned whether Allentown and Bethlehem, which have their own health departments, have "bought on" to the process. Dr. David Lyon, outgoing Chair of the volunteer health department, complained that "[e]verybody wants someone else to make the commitment first. Allentown wants to know what Bethlehem's prepared to do. The County wants to know what the cities are prepared to do. The hospitals want to know what government's prepared to do."

So I guess the answer is No.

Asked whether there would be a disparity in the services offered to the cities as opposed to the outlying areas of the Lehigh Valley, Dr. Lyon acknowledged a commitment to the Lehigh Valley's urban core, but explained that rural citizens have different public health needs. Yeah, city residents need condoms while Upper Mount Bethel residents need teeth. Dr. Lyon pledged that "comparable" services would be provided within about a year to 18 months.

Dr. Lyon also conceded that the $500,000 contribution sought in July is too high. But he added, "I would be less than honest if I said the figure will be zero."

Lamont McClure (Nor.) is the only Democrat from either county who opposes a public health department. He's claimed before that hospitals want this to relieve the congestion in their ERs, so they should be willing to kick in some dough.

He reminded Dr. Lyon about that last night, and asked whether there's been any progress. The answer is that there've been no "further, substantive" discussions. In fairness, Lehigh Valley Hospital has been pretty busy, what with tasering patients and everything.

"This is going to take some time," Dr. Lyon cautioned. He's probably scared that if he gets too insistent, one of those hospitals will nail him with a cattle prod.

Bruce Gilbert (Nor.) wondered why every hospital CEO in the Lehigh Valley was not standing at his side, "The major players here should be those hospitals and they should be the ones coming before us to say, 'Here's what we pledged for this wonderful joint venture.'"

Gilbert was zapped with a cattle prod on his way out of the building by some laughing dude in a white lab coat. Bruce is now Northampton County's first gray Councilperson, and thinks he's a ballerina.

Tom Creighton (Leh.) suggested that hospitals should run a Bi-County health department. But Bill Hansell (Leh.) countered that state law requires that a public health department must originate with a public body.

"It's a new branch of government," grumbled Ron Angle (Nor.). "I don't need any more government in my life."

Unfortunately, the tea party crowd arrived late, so nobody applauded Ron but me.

LV Health Department member John Reinhart termed the vote "insulting. You're saying now, 'Well you can continue and we support you, but you can't spend the money that a foundation is willing to provide you.'" Reinhart questioned whether he should continue serving on the health bard. "I thought we were an extension of your interest." He also complained, "How in the world are we ever going to go to the hospitals and say, 'We need you as partners in this and we need you to step up.'"

An angry Peg Ferraro (Nor.) put on a little display for her Lehigh Valley Partnership overseers, blasting the five Northampton Council members who voted against extending LV Health Bureau budget through the end of this year. "I am very, very disappointed in my Board," she said in her big person voice.

Banging the table as well as any Politburo member, she exclaimed "Talk! Talk! Talk! ... We have one more year that they're asking for, and then you can vote No. But please, vote yes, allow this to go to fruition, and I'm sorry, the vote's been taken. I am just very, very disappointed."

Funny thing about Peg. Just four days earlier, in the presence of a large group of tea party sympathizers, Ferraro suggested exactly what five members of Northampton County Council did on January 10. "I would wonder if something could just be put on hold until the change in the economy or some time down the road," she said in her little person voice. "It's just a different time than when the project started."

That Peg. Thank God we have a VP on Council who can take every side on the same issue, and be passionate about it, too.

Is the Bi-County Health Department dead? According to Bill Hansell, yes. But according to Lehigh Commissioner Percy Dougherty, it's still hanging by a thread. "I'll do almost anything to keep this alive except give Ron [Angle] mouth to mouth," he pledged.

Angle retorted, "Please let me die."

Everyone whipped out their cattle prods, but Angle enjoyed it.
Updated 11:40: You can also read about this at Bethlehem Patch, The Morning Call and a WFMZ web extra.


Anonymous said...

Is this not dead? Do local yokals not see whats going on nationally? Do they not see that the people of this country want LESS Governement? Do they not see that this so called Health Department would be a total waste of donated and tax monies? Good Grief! Finally Ron Angle has it right. This needs to be stopped. Its amazing that WE ALL have survived so far in this Valley WITHOUT a multi million dollar health program. I find it amazing how nobody in support of this new program can show any possible MEASURABLE positive outcome or how this will make us ALL healthier and safer. Please Northampton County, stop going to the meetings and end this once and for all. PS: the BASD announced another huge tax increase for next year of 15 percent or another $476 per year for the typical taxpayer and the County is entertaining a new monstrocity.

PHN said...

Lehigh County continues to be clueless. They are facing a 16% increase in taxes and they still want to put in a new, unnecessary level of government. They keeping thinking Santa Claus (the hospitals) are going to come with a big magical check and save the day. The hospitals like their money right where it is. Just take a look at the fields by 33 and Freemansburg Ave.- there's where the check went.

Anonymous said...

Peg Stop messing up or you're not going to get re-elected!!! You should no longer be a part of the NCRP. Someone needs to give you the boot...swiftly...

Anonymous said...

Peg's a former teacher on the public dole for a nice pension. She represents a collectivist mentality that is all too prevalent on boards filled with ex-teachers. They want more and more and more government, but haven't a clue how to pay for it. There's no more money, Peg. It's been in the news - a lot.

Anonymous said...

Not knowing much as a simple man it is obvious that by creating this commission that POOR Allentown wants to mooch off of everyone else in the Lehigh Valley that is working their butts of to make a decent life for themselves! I bet they would make out fically somewhere if this goes through!

Anonymous said...

At least Peg has been consistent..I believe she has supported Gracedale remaining public and the health board..The ridicuous people here are those who are saying we have to farm out Gracedale because of the costs and then want to support a public health department..Are they completely nuts or just clueless....The State and the feds are cutting back everywhere..Anyone who thinks they'll drop tons of money into a county health department at this time or in the immediate future, are smoking the funny stuff..GIve me a break already and put the knife into this once and for all...A coma isnt good enough..Put it out of its misery!!!!

Bernie O'Hare said...

Actually, the point here is that she has been inconsistent. On Thursday night, she was ready to pull the plug. On Monday night, she blasts Norco Council for doing exactly what she recommended.

She's been inconsistent on Gracedale, too. She stated she would vote to sell Gracedale if unions remained unwilling to prove $6 MM in givebacks. Unions are unwilling, but Peg will vote against a sale.

She tries to be all things to all people and that is how you end up with a reputation for being untruthful.

Anonymous said...

The John McClane of initiatives.

The only way this thing takes off is if the hospitals take the lead, which they won't. They would be subsidizing the erosion of their bottom line, and that's just not going to happen.

Anonymous said...

People- You can kill the Board of Health, but you can't kill our need for public health services...that's why this will never die. We will always need to think about the overall health of a community, region and population, instead of the backwards way health care is set up to take care of individuals when they are sick.

You can say what you want about shrinking government, controlling taxes and holding elected officials accountable...that's your right as a citizen. You can voice those opinions to elected officials. But please let's not pretend like we don't need public health or like it's a way to dump hospital services on government.

noel jones said...

Anon 1:38, I have to agree with Anon 6:40 (the first Anon--I really wish people would take monikers if they want to remain anonymous so that we can follow these threads more easily!)--advocates for the Bi-County Health Department presented at Easton City Council last year, and I happened to be there so I asked the mayor to explain how the addition of this new council would improve health care for average Easton resident. He and the advocates had a really hard time articulating any specific benefit, and the upshot was that basically it would only cover to coordinated administering of vaccinations between local communities, and that the rest of the funding would be for health "education" for the community, and that the benefit to the "community" would be that they might be able to secure extra grant money for local communities. So when I reiterated that they were saying that there would be no specific improvement to the health care of local residents beyond what they currently enjoy, except for possibly having better access to vaccinations (and even that was up for debate), they basically said yes. The mayor, to his credit, seemed no more convinced of the necessity of this new branch of government than I was at the time.

It all seemed like a bold-faced play to create a new bureaucracy that would employ administrative cronies to do a whole lot of nothing while taking home a nice paycheck paid for by our tax dollars.

I am glad this didn't pass. To justify creating a new layer of bureaucracy, one would have to convince me that the benefits outweigh the expense, and I for one have not been convinced.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for your well-thought out comments. Despite having very good health care in this region, our overall health is below average. We can attribute some of that to individual responsibility (smoking, overeating, not exercising). But a lot of our health issues are related to the spread of disease, the quality of our food, water and air, and for reasons we might not fully understand yet. Why are there so many cases of cancer, diabetes, asthma, low birthweight babies, sexually transmitted diseases, autismm, heart disease, etc.? Who's thinking about this, tracking this, developing strategies to remedy this? The State Department of Health??? Local hospitals (they get paid to take care of these things after they happen, not to prevent them). Who's looking at cases of food poisoning, the quality of our recreational lakes, the impact of no smoking campaigns, etc.?

These approaches work and the citizens of the Lehigh Valley deserve them.

Sorry, but I remain,

Anon 1:38

Anonymous said...

Ferraro's a wishy-washy follower who does what she's told, even as it changes day to day. She exhibits the worst traits of an elected official. She's like a dumber Arlen Specter.

Anonymous said...

Will a County run Health Dept really, really improve all of our health? If you believe that, then I have a bridge I want to sell you. Health Care is fine and available if you WANT it. But, I have no clue as to how people on this Board are linking a public health department with the delivery of "health care" services.

Anonymous said...

If you think health care is expensive now, wait until politicians make it free.

How's everybody's rates, deductibles and co-pays this year? Ain't gummint health great?

Bernie O'Hare said...

I happen to think public health is worthwhile. But health board members have done a lousy sales job and really have not listened to the public.

Back in July, when this idea was first rejected, it was very clear that hospitals need to step up and offer financial support. Most of them are tax exempt and this really is a small commitment on their part. It was incredibly foolish to expect the blessings of elected officials when they failed to even make an effort with hospitals. That WAS the primary complaint.

As I indicated earlier, I would not hit the counties up for any money until the third year. Give them aan opportunity to see if this is as worthwhile as I think it can be, and they will come along. But demanding $500k in the middle of a recession is incredibly arrogant.

The health board needs to be more responsive and should ask for NO MONEY during the first three years. This will limit what it can do, but sets the stage for showing what it can do.

Anonymous said...

Bernie, I think your offering of the three-year plan is admirable, but won't stop yet another bureaucratic beast from growing so large it turns on its host. There's no getting half-pregnant here.

Anonymous said...

NY and NJ trash have brought in all kinds of fun disease and crime.

How many years have birth control and safe sex ads been hammered at in two languages. Has it worked???
Walk down the main streets of Allentown or Easton and you will get your answer. But hey, more Chamber type executives will make a difference.

As to hypocrites. Dumping the care of seniors as an annoying extravagance, while pushing public health is a luxury only John
Stoffa, the Holy and Good Right Rev. Dowd and O'Hare can enjoy.

By the way to the bagger who droned about "gubermnit healthcare", the watered down mess that passed hasn't really changed anything yet. The increases in premiums are the ongoing price gouging you and your pals praise as free enterprise.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you Bernie that other than Rinehart the Health Bureau spokespeople have done a miserable job selling this to the public. They have tried to sell the benefits of restaurant inspections. Yet how many cases of food poisoning have we had in the LV? I'm sure that some kitchens are unsanitary and employees aren't washing their hands as required. But that happens in NYC where they have an army of inspectors. In the end, any restaurant that causes sickness will go out of business pronto. Remember Chi-Chi's? In the end the DOH will be an educational tool of the left.

Anonymous said...

I'm sick and tired of hearing there are no public health services outside the cities. This is a statement that is far from the truth. Every time someone says it, it insults ever person, be they government or private, who does provide some type of public health and the good work they all do. This statement also shows lack of knowledge about their county and about real public health.

Childhood immunizations are a good example of a service that many say is lacking which is totally untrue. If you have PA private insurance, immunizations are covered. Medical assistance-immunizations are free. CHIP- immunizations are free. If you have a private doctor who is enrolled in VFC- immunizations are free or low cost. If you are one of the many too rich for MA/CHIP and too poor for insurance, there are free vaccine clinics held at the state health centers located in Easton and Whitehall. Sometimes there are even free clinics held through outreach programs such as school catch up.

If a child is not immunized in PA, it is not the fault of a lack of public health, but a laziness of the parents.

Anonymous said...

Check this out:


Once again, PA is ranked in the bottom half of the country for health. Lehigh and Northampton are on the bottom half of PA.

Please note- one of the significant contributung factors to poor health- lack of public health

Bernie O'Hare said...

That's fine. That's trotted out every five minutes by public health advocates, but what you need to do is establish that public health really does make a difference.

One claim is that public health will reduce childhood obesity rates. So is the childhood obesity rate lower in Allentown ad Bethlehem, which have health departments, than it is in the rest of the LV? That's just one small example. That's how you sell it. You don't sell it by saying I had a friend who died today and he might be alive if there were only public health. That's what Ilene Prokup told county legislators Monday night.

And as I've repeatedly indicated, yo don't budget ANY county contribtions until you get a cash commitment from the hospitals.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure the county has a need for lots and lots of public health programs and many other things. However, due to the recession htere is not alot of money to go around..they are trying to close Gracedale and are freezing or abolishing other county jobs. Why, in heavan's name, would anyone in their right mind especially at this time, even consider a county health department. The idea is so absolutely, incredibly ignorant that it defies belief..Take care of what you have and stop looking for more ways to spend money..God..The State and feds are broke..Do you really think they are looking for ways to spend money? They will renig on any promises and the County taxpayers will be left holding the bag for something they dont even freaking want..Kill this thing already!!!!

Anonymous said...

I am glad Northampton had the sense to walk away. This might be the way to save Lehigh County.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Gilbert is naive if he doesn't believe there is a connection between closing Gracedale and creating the Public Health Department. I doubt that is his motive but his newness to politics shows.

there most certainly is a contingent of community folks including some well placed elected ones who see a direct correlation between dumping Gracedale and having money for a Health Department as well as a drug treatment facility.

I admire Mr. Gilbert's principles but he is naive to the sewers of politics.

The Terrapin

Anonymous said...

Locally I call for Ron Angle to have a mental health evaluation. He is exhibiting signs simular to the shooter. And if you think this is a joke you are wrong. No one acted on the shooters behalf, Ron seems to be unhinged lately, with the outbursts and vial name calling. These are the early signs.

Anonymous said...


"County health board discusses staffing, health rankings"

Erie Times News

The Erie County Department of Health has seen the size of its staff shrink by almost 15 percent over the past four years.

Any additional cuts would probably force the county Health Department to slash services, Director Andy Glass said.

"If a decision comes from the county that we have to cut costs, it would be a program that would have to be cut," Glass said.

Glass discussed the department's staffing Thursday evening during an Erie County Board of Health meeting.

The county Health Department employed the equivalent of 85.5 full-time workers in 2008. It currently employs the equivalent of 73.5 full-time workers.

"We're at the point that we no longer have the ability to think and do things differently when costs are cut, like we did in the past," Glass said.

County Health Board members also discussed ways to improve the county's health ranking. Erie County is ranked 65th out of 67 Pennsylvania counties for health behaviors in the most recent survey published by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The reasons why Erie County ranks so low are that more county residents smoke, are overweight, binge drink and have sexually transmitted diseases than their counterparts across the state.

"Why don't we find partners, such as all the schools, to work on some of these issues?" said board member Carolynn Masters, dean of Gannon University's Morosky College of Health Professions and Sciences.

Bernie O'Hare said...

This is devastating.