Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Brace, Hamm, Pearson & Waitkus Stand For Cedarbrook
In Northampton County, I can assure you that Gracedale residents who have no idea what planet they are on, would be at a news conference concerning the facility. Unions carted them to several Council meetings ... at County expense, of course. The tactic did tug at a few heartstrings, especially as TV cameras whirred away. But I doubt very much that it was good for the residents.
So yesterday, I expected to see a few elderly residents dutifully lined up in wheelchairs next to the Commissioner candidates. I figured one or two of them would be in tears, crying "Where will I go?" a la Gracedale. But it was just the candidates and party boss. Gloria Hamm, who is actually an incumbent, made a point of stating that no residents were asked to participate. "We don't really like to use residents as a poster child," she explained.
Hamm, a R.N. who knows Lehigh County Human Services inside out, also objected to calling Cedarbrook the "poor house," noting that many of the residents are private pay. "Their fiscal responsibility is excellent," she added. "This is a four-star facility." She concluded she would oppose any attempt to privatize Cedarbrook.
Candidate Dennis Pearson mentioned that during the Spring primary, he was the "lone wolf" at a Wescoesville debate in which Republicans Mazziotti, Ott and Scheller "hinted" they would get rid of Cedarbrook. "This is a fine institution," Pearson argued. "This institution has its beds filled," Pearson added. Gracedale, in contrast, has been suffering from a declining census and the drop in revenue that inevitably follows. Pearson also panned the Glenn Eckhart idea of using work release inmates to perform janitorial services, especially since nursing home workers must undergo a criminal background check.
Another candidate, Tim Waitkus, explained that he understands the "power of the profit motive," especially since he works in the health industry himself. But Cedarbrook adds "$1.9 million on the County budget sheet. In reality, it's a cash cow." He questioned whether selling Cedarbrook would really be fiscally conservative.
Geoff Brace, a downtown revitalization specialist, explained that the refrain he hears as he knocks on doors is that voters want politicians to quit fighting and start working to make sure that government works. "One of the pieces of Lehigh County government that actually works, and that probably works best, is Cedarbrook," he stated. "Its services are exemplary. It nets $1.9 million for Lehigh County taxpayers, taking some pressure off the need for property taxes." Brace noted that, without Cedarbrook, Lehigh would have a $1.9 million hole that would have to be filled with property tax increases.
As I mentioned in yesterday's post, comparing Cedarbrook and Gracedale is an apples and oranges comparison. And as Gloria Hamm and party boss Rick Daugherty explained, one of the biggest differences is that in Lehigh, County officials from both parties were "very proactive" in fulfilling capital needs. In Northampton, however, leaking windows could wait. A new elevator could wait. And so on.
In a "Gang of Three" news release, Republican candidates Scott Ott, Lisa Scheller and Vic Mazziotti, Democrats are accused of manufacturing a controversy where none exists. Mazziotti is quoted as saying, "Since they jacked up your taxes by 16 percent last year, I suppose they're desperate enough to fabricate an issue in an effort to distract voters from their record. People are smart. Voters won't be fooled."
I know Vic. The quote attributed to him sounds very much unlike him, so I called him. What Vic told me was that he was quoted accurately on Patch when he stated, "I’m absolutely beyond a doubt convinced that the absolutely right thing to do is to sell the county nursing home. Keep in mind that two-thirds of the counties in Pennsylvania do not own a nursing home, and we do not have old people dying on the streets in those other counties.”
In fact, when I spoke to him yesterday, Vic honestly told me that he still thinks residents would receive better care if Cedarbrook were privatized, but that he was persuaded by Tom Muller's Apples and Oranges comparison. There are "no plans" and "no plans to plan" on selling Cedarbrook.
That's a change in position. In a tea party questionnaire, Mazziotti is "strongly against" keeping Cedarbrook. Lisa Scheller is "somewhat against" keeping the facility. "We need to insure that our elderly are cared for compassionately and effectively, and that would be my only hesitation to privatization," she explains.
Scott Ott failed to state whether he supported Cedarbrook, but stated this. "There’s no longer a solid reason for the county to be in this business. Many private-sector firms do the same thing for the same customer base at competitive prices. Anyone who suggests that only government can provide this service as well, or with as much caring, is simply ignorant, self-interested or intentionally misleading. Transitioning to private ownership will not only improve the facility, but will help to get taxpayers out from under long-term, unsustainable promises made to public-sector union bosses by short-term, ambitious politicians."
Don't know about you, but it sure sounds to me like they wanted to sell it until they realized it might be politically unpopular.