Gracedale Nursing Home generic drone

EASTON, Pa. – Pennsylvania's proposed increase in staff hours at nursing homes threatens the existence of Gracedale Nursing Home, Northampton County Executive Lamont McClure said Thursday. 

The Upper Nazareth Township facility already faces challenges recruiting workers, and in some cases, current employees are not helping the situation. Still, the main concern Thursday was the state regulation under review. 

Gov. Tom Wolf's administration has proposed a rule to increase "direct care" hours per resident, per day, by about 50% to 4.1 hours by the end of 2022, up from 2.7 hours. 

McClure said at Thursday's county council meeting that he would be happy to increase the hours, but hiring at the county home has been a challenge. Businesses and other institutions have also faced labor shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"I can guarantee we cannot" reach 4.1 hours per resident, per day, by the proposed deadline, he said. That could lead to disaster, he stated. 

The county home takes in "the poorest of the poor, the sickest of the sick," he said. "If Gracedale didn't take them, they would wind up on the streets." 

Councilman John Cusick said the state's proposal, which is not binding yet, is an "unfunded mandate." 

"This is simply not workable for us to achieve by next year," he said. He proposed a resolution urging the state Department of Health to consider the potential consequences of the rule. That proposal passed 9-0.  

Gracedale also faces the potential loss of workers because of President Joseph Biden's order for nursing homes to require workers be vaccinated, or risk losing federal funding.  

McClure said 55% of Gracedale employees have received the COVID-19 vaccination. Workers could get legitimate exemptions for religion and medical reasons would be honored, but otherwise, "They're gone," the county executive said. Gracedale needs the federal support, he added.  

"I would like to keep them all," he said of the staff. 

Mary Lou Kaboly, deputy director of human services, said 72 Gracedale staff members were recruited during the first six months of this year, below the pace of 2020. Even ads, bonuses and tuition assistance did not bring in the number of workers needed. 

Those are the big issues, but interactions among employees have been a problem, too, according to Kaboly. Some students who worked at Gracedale were not interested in sticking around because they felt some workers treated them badly, she explained. Kaboly said those employees have been counseled on how to deal with students while still getting their job done. 

Lastly, McClure said the federal Veterans Administration is no longer sending new residents to Gracedale. The county does not know why but is inquiring. McClure noted the VA has not been a big source of residents.

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