Today, Council has invited State Reps to explain why Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements to County-owned nursing homes keep declining, putting them at a competitive disadvantage with private facilities. If Gracedale were privately owned last year, it would have received $4.3 million more money from Medicare and Medicaid, enough to show a small surplus. But what is most likely is that, every year, the County will receive a smaller and smaller reimbursement.
County Money Spent
Because the County expected to have sold Gracedale by now, only $3.5 million was budgeted for the facility. Yesterday, Council learned that $3.4 million was already spent by the end of June, leaving the facility wit just $100,000 for the rest of the year. It is hoped that new management might stop the bleeding, but a dubious Ron Angle remarked, "If they can do a better job and not spend $3.4 million thru the rest of the year, I'd like to buy Gracedale myself."
Although Gracedale is a 725-bed facility, the daily census is down around 592, according to Stoffa. He and Human Services Director Ross Marcus have closed two wings, and are using the staff that would serve there to reduce overtime. They are hopeful that, once new managmwnt is installed, they can re-open those wings and increase revenue.
Council member Mike Dowd called it a triage situation, and shares the hope that new management will mean an increased census. But Ron Angle doubts it will change much. "The image of Gracedale is that it is the poor house and people do not want to send their relatives there," he reasoned.
$20 Million in Capital Improvements Needed
As Council Prez John Cusick has remarked in the past, the parking lot at Gracedale now resembles a lunar landscape. That, and 54 other projects, need urgent attention.
The most pressing needs are a new or upgraded sewer line and grease interceptor. Stoffa tells Council he's been threatened with a $1,000 per day fine by the Nazareth Municipal Authority if he keeps putting it off. An engineering firm presented four options. All of them are expensive.
"We smell up the joint," remarked Stoffa. "We can't delay anymore."
I go through Gracedale several times every week in the course of my daily walks. I always thought that smell was me.
One innovative idea proposed by Stoffa is getting UGI to the site, decommissioning oil burners and using a rented boiler this Winter, fueled with natural gas. Stoffa claims that could save the County as much as $600,000 per year, and those savings could finance the sewer upgrades.
But a bond will still have to be floated for other improvements. And at the current rate, the County is facing an 18% tax hike next year, which is exactly what Ron Angle had predicted.
2001 Bond Proceeds
It is hoped that some of the money left over from the 2001 megabond could be used to fund some of these projects and reduce the tax increase. But County administrators told Council they are still trying to determine what is available.
Council President Cusick is hopeful that a new management team will be able to negotiate some labor concessions. Rather than meeting with the unions now, Stoffa thinks it is more prudent to allow a new management firm to conduct those negotiations.
Sarah Cassi has a detailed report from The Express Times here. The Morning Call's Jenna Portnoy has also weighed in here.