EASTON, Pa. - Northampton County Council was immediately faced with legal questions when voting two weeks ago to not accept County Executive John Stoffa's recommendation to switch Gracedale Nursing Home's transportation services provider from Nazareth Ambulance Corp to Lifestar.
Under a resolution approved Oct. 4, council called on Stoffa's administration to instead renew a contract with Nazareth Ambulance, the long-term provider of non-emergency transportation services for Gracedale residents.
That resolution was immediately met with a claim by Lifestar legal counsel that a new contract cannot be awarded to Nazareth Ambulance since the organization lacked a special license from the state Public Utility Commission.
During Thursday night's County Council meeting, council solicitor Philip Lauer said Nazareth Ambulance, based on his research of current law and court precedent, does not require the special license Lifestar claims the organization must have.
As a result, council once again urged the administration to proceed with hashing out a new contract with Nazareth Ambulance, which expires the end of the month. In the meantime, Nazareth Ambulance has agreed to work under an expired contract if a new deal is not reached before the end of the month.
The administration is planning to refer the matter back to the county's requests for proposals evaluation committee. Following the committee's review, it will be up to the administration to determine if it will recommend the renewal with Nazareth Ambulance.
If the administration does not come back with a recommendation to keep Nazareth Ambulance, Councilman Lamont McClure said, "We can keep rejecting. There is not a great deal of urgency because Nazareth Ambulance will work under the old contract."
Back on Oct. 4, in a 7-2 vote, Council decided to reject Stoffa's proposal to switch the transportation services to Lifestar Response.
The proposed contract with Lifestar was set at $315,600 for the first year, with the potential for three years at $946,800. The bid by Nazareth Ambulance came in at $31,000 more per year.
But for Council members like Margaret "Peg" Ferraro, the "human element" outweighed the annual financial savings of $31,000. Ferraro noted during the Oct. 4 meeting that the nursing home staff, residents and their families are used to dealing with Nazareth Ambulance Corp, and that she was uncomfortable with the thought of changing providers.
Councilman Scott Parsons, who voted against the Nazareth Ambulance Corp contract, said during the Oct. 4 meeting that the issue "comes down to dollars and cents."
While the county received requests for proposals from multiple providers, this type of service does not require the county to award the contract to lowest bidder, according to county legal counsel.
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