Lehigh Valley

Northampton County Executive vows to review Gracedale absenteeism

EASTON, Pa. - Northampton County plans to investigate, and if necessary, crack down on, staff absenteeism at the Gracedale Nursing Home.

County Executive Lamont McClure told Northampton County Council at its Wednesday meeting that in June, "call outs" at times approached 33% of the workforce.

"There is the potential for misuse (of leave) when a third of your workforce is out," McClure said.

He said no other county operation has an absentee rate close to that of Gracedale.

The county can require staff who call out to be seen by a doctor, McClure said, to verify the reasons for missing work at the Upper Nazareth Township facility.

McClure also said two anonymous complaints contending that the nursing home was understaffed were made to the state Department of Health in June.

"Both complaints were unsubstantiated," he said.

Staff members should not discuss incorrect claims about staffing in front of Gracedale residents and residents' families, he said.

"I have a mandate to manage Gracedale, and I'm going to manage it," he said. "We are investigating the potential that there is abuse of the system."

"I don't know how Gracedale will keep functioning" with that level of absenteeism, Council President Ron Heckman said. He added that it is "inexcusable" for employees to discuss alleged staffing shortages in front of residents.

Heckman said the verification approach McClure will implement at Gracedale was successfully used at the county prison years ago.

The frequent absences have to stop, the county executive said.

"It's a matter of fairness to people who do show up for work," McClure said. McClure and Heckman both affirmed their support for Gracedale. The sale of the home to a private operator was once considered for Gracedale, but it remains under county ownership and control, after being managed by an outside firm from 2011 through the end of 2018.

'Going to the Dogs'

McClure opened his report to the council with the introduction of a staff member who is less likely to call out: Boomer, a male chocolate Labrador K-9 officer who can detect explosives. Deputy Sheriff Stephen Tuxhorn works and lives with Boomer.

"The county is going to the dogs," McClure said.

McClure noted that another recent K-9 addition, Danni, has aided in six recent contraband seizures. He said the county is using therapy dogs to help youngsters in the children and youth system.

"Kids get upset (during court proceedings)," and the therapy dogs can help them relax, McClure said.

The council approved the purchase of 5.64 acres of land for open space in Upper Mount Bethel Township at a cost of $28,200, or $5,000 per acre.

The council also heard from McClure that the county's credit rating from Moody's remains at Aa1, solidly in investment grade levels.

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