Northampton County Executive John Stoffa announced this morning that his office will be recommending Premier Healthcare Resources of King of Prussia, Pa., as the management firm to take over the day-to-day operations at Gracedale, at a cost of about $1.99 million over a five-year contract.
The second lowest bid of four received, members of the review committee said they were satisfied the company would not only cut costs for the county, but was a “corporation with a heart” and would run the facility in a manner that would continue to provide high-quality care for residents while maintaining a good work environment for employees.
“Frankly, some of us were surprised,” Stoffa said. “We thought the costs would be higher. I think we've got a good deal here.”
Ann Terres, who represented the Area Agency on Aging, said the review committee toured about half a dozen facilities Premier runs in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey, many without giving advance notice.
“We were very impressed with what we found,” Terres said, noting positive comments came from residents, staff, and family members at all the facilities run by Premier that they toured.
“It couldn't have been rehearsed,” said County Director of Human Services Ross Marcus. They didn't have the time.”
If the recommendation is approved by county council, Premier will provide one on-site administrator, as well as external management and financial accounting support. Other Gracedale on-site staffing would largely be unchanged.
“One of the other things that was impressive was their financial staff,” Marcus said, noting they asked “on-target” questions. “There will be support. That was one of the things we wanted most.”
The level of care and professionalism, combined with the promise of cutting costs, moved the committee to decide Premier was the best choice despite not being the lowest bidder, Marcus said.
“(Not being the lowest bidder) was not a major point,” he said. “The bottom line is, they're going to reduce costs.”
Marcus added the company will not only receive incentives for reaching targets early, but penalties in the second year of the contract if they fail to do so, a provision Premier itself suggested.
The company will look at the operation of Gracedale thoroughly, and though it attempts to retain personnel by removing vacant positions first and offering other positions to employees, there is no guarantee some current staff may be eliminated.
“They're here to administrate and make this thing run,” Stoffa said. “They're here to cut down on county costs.”
While details have yet to be worked out, the county will receive financial reports regularly, and also be involved in the selection of a permanent administrator for Gracedale. It is also expected Premier will be involved in union negotiations, as they are at other unionized facilities they run.
Premier's involvement won't mean the end of a county contribution to Gracedale, Marcus said, but it will be substantially lower than the current $6 to 8 million Northampton County spends on the nursing facility.
But to make that amount a reality will require union contract concessions, said County Council President John Cusick.
“Concessions have to be made by the unions if we are to make this work,” he said. “It's just no longer possible for us to operate Gracedale as we have.”
If council approves the recommendation, Premier would move to take over the management of Gracedale within 30 to 45 days.
“We impressed upon them that we prefer 30 days—or next Friday,” Marcus quipped.
“My hope is that we can move this forward as quickly as possible,” said Cusick. “In my mind, it's just not something we can continue to subsidize.”
Premier company representatives are set to attend the county council's committee meeting next Wednesday evening, and also the council's regular meeting on Thursday, Aug. 18.
While it is unclear whether the council will accept the recommendation Thursday, Cusick said the move is consistent with the first step of a resolution the council passed a few months ago regarding Gracedale's management.
“If we don't do this, what do we do?” Stoffa asked.