Northampton County Courthouse

Northampton County Courthouse in Easton.

Northampton County Executive Lamont McClure contends that a health center for county employees would provide great care and save millions of taxpayer dollars.

County Council is not ready to consider the concept, not ready to the point of considering an ordinance to block it.

The proposed center would be in leased space - the location has not been identified - and run by Integrity Health of Hamilton, N.J. Integrity operates what it calls "partnership health clinics" for counties and school districts.

The 2,000 Northampton County employees and their dependents could use the primary care center without co-pays and keep their existing health insurance. Using the center would be optional, and McClure's administration says a survey indicates employees welcome the idea.

Council members have objected to, among other things, a lack of detail about the proposal. McClure says that is off base.

"It's fundamentally not true," he said in an emailed statement Monday. "Integrity has presented to County Council twice, and has provided Council with details on Return on Investment and its other clients' experiences."

McClure said Integrity Health will take calls from council directly to answer any questions. The cost to run the center would be $800,000 per year, with startup costs of about $2.5 million to prepare and equip the clinic.

Integrity Health is run by Douglas Forrester, who was the Republican nominee for governor of New Jersey in 2005 and for the U.S. Senate in 2002.

A statement from Integrity Health issued on Forrester's letterhead says its centers are popular with employees and management.

"All our clients have repeatedly renewed our contracts over the years because it saves them money and their employees want them to do so," according to the statement.

Other objections from council focus on why a county with two big health operations - Lehigh Valley Health Network and St. Luke's University Health Network - needs another firm to run a primary-care center.

St. Luke's has said in a statement that it is interested in talking about the idea, while LVHN said it has invested in Northampton County, adding a hospital this year in Lower Nazareth Township.

McClure has said the hospital systems would not provide the same kind of coverage.

Council President Lori Vargo Heffner said the process has been a problem. The idea of a health center was first raised in August, and it's a big deal that involves millions of dollars.

"County Council has the right a decision of this magnitude to take all the time it needs and get all the information it wants," she said in an interview Monday. She said council wants to slow down the process and get more specific information.

There was no competitive bidding for the center, she added.

"County Council is asking to put a pause on the process," Vargo Heffner said. So far, no information about a lease for the center has been disclosed, and council has to approve leases.

"They haven't said where it will go," she said, while the administration has said revealing information about potential sites would put the county in a bad negotiating position.

"Most of council feels this is an inappropriate way to approach this," Vargo Heffner said.

Council is considering an ordinance to block the use of county money for a center until a "request for proposal," or RFP, and "a full survey" of county employees are prepared.

Council may vote Dec. 1 on that ordinance.


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