Council ponders contract Jail healthcare up to $36M over 10 years
By a 7-1 vote, Northampton County Council approved a new contact for healthcare at the jail at its July 18 meeting. It’s with Primecare, which has spent 19 years with the county. The contract amount is $24 million over seven years, with options to extend it to 10 years for $36 million.
“The seven years struck me as a very long time,” said Council member John Cusick, the sole No vote. The jail’s public safety director, Ken Kraft, countered that, with a seven-year contract, “[W]e can stabilize our healthcare costs. We can stabilize our budget for many years.” Council member Kevin Lott echoed that argument. “If you can get stability in health care that the county can count on ..., with due respect John, I’m kind of seeing it from the other side,” he said.
Cusick also complained that the county would be stuck for seven years, but Kraft retorted that the contract includes a 30-day termination clause.
According to Kraft, the new contract increases mental health and detox treatment.
Primecare CEO Thomas Weber said that there are 26 FT employees who spend time at the jail. These include nurses, dentists, physicians, psychologists and psychiatric nurse practitioners.
In other business, council heard from Kelly Ehlman, a 20-year veteran of Gracedale. “I’m here about the staffing crisis that we face in Gracedale,” she said, adding she was doing so “on behalf of the residents.” She presented a petition with 200 signatures asserting a an employee shortage despite initiatives made by upper management.
Her petition calls on council to investigate by obtaining the results of a family survey conducted by management, inquiring about the rise of employee resignations, re-assessing initiatives implemented by the Director of Nursing and “find a solution to what management has failed to accomplish.”
Council President Ron Heckman suggested that she meet with Human Services Chair Lori Vargo Heffner, who agreed to discuss the mater with Ehlman.
Council member John Cusick also suggested she address her concerns with her union. “I have tried that; that’s been void,” responded Ehlman. “Out of desperation on my account I am here even though I face possible retaliation in the future.”
She said that she recently visited one floor with two aides serving 50 residents on the 3-11 shift.
“Do you have any specific recommendations that have not been tried?” asked council member Matt Dietz.
Ehlman responded that the county has already doneseveral things she called ridiculous. She cited a short-lived attempt to eliminate per diem as well as the elimination of a staffing position on every floor.In addition, she said employees are pulled off floors for training.
“Whatever they are doing, the staffing crisis has worsened,” Ehlman said of Gracedale administrators.
Heckman promised Ehlman she’d face no retaliation. Northampton County officials have themselves recognized a staffing shortage of Gracedale.
Finally, County Executive Lamont McClure reported that, as a result of refinancing a bond issue at a lower interest rate, the County will be saving $453,000. He commended Fiscal Affairs Director Steve Barron for coming up with the plan.
Council member Peg Ferraro was absent.