Does a Northampton Co. Employee Health Center Make Sense? The Executive Council, Council Clash by Plan.

Plans to spend money to develop a county employee-only health center in Northampton County have been revived by the county executive.

County Executive Lamont McClure vetoed a Dec. 1 vote by the county board to exclude the cost of the health center from the 2023 budget. The board said during its meeting that it believed the plan was rushed and required more research.

“I don’t have all the information I want to make an informed decision,” said Council Member John Brown. Brown later rejected the offer.

The next Northampton County Council meeting is scheduled for Jan. 5 at the Northampton County Government Center. The council would need six votes to override McClure’s veto. The previous vote to waive spending narrowly passed 5-2, with two abstentions.

McClure said the health center could save the county hundreds of thousands of dollars even as health care costs are rising across the country. McClure’s proposal would be voluntary, requiring no changes to the county’s existing insurance plan or co-pays from consumers.

“It’s a win-win for us and our employees, and they won’t have to pay extra,” he said Thursday.

McClure believes the county’s 2023 budget already calls for spending on the health center, he wrote in an open rebuttal at a discussion board held on the proposal in November.

“There is provision in the budget to cover employee health costs for 2023,” he said. “While this ‘trust fund’ [sic] for those costs, we believe the costs and cost savings can be covered by the money we’ve asked for in the 2023 budget.”

The Council’s 2023 budget is expected to allocate $22 million to health spending. McClure expects start-up costs for the facility will require between $800,000 and $2 million. Recurring costs will depend on space rental costs, service provider costs and employee use of the program, which is unknown, McClure said. He expects those details to be ironed out during negotiations, he told lehighvalleylive.com.

Northampton County has between 2,923 employees and their dependents currently, not including retirees, a county spokesman said. Fewer than 25 percent, or about 400, of those employees responded to a survey to measure interest in a health center.

The health center was initially presented to the council at an Aug. 17 finance committee meeting with Integrity Health, the company in attendance positioned by McClure to become the center’s health care provider.

Integrity Health operates several health centers in New Jersey and recently expanded into Lycoming County, Pennsylvania. The board objected to McClure’s exclusion of a competitive bidding process to select a health care provider.

“The fact that he’s just offering one provider and not being transparent with the rest is problematic,” Council President Lori Vargo Hefner said. “How can you say when it’s millions of dollars that it shouldn’t go through competitive bidding?” I don’t think this is good government.

If the veto is overcome in January, it would only mean that this year’s funding proposal for the health center would be delayed for another vote, Vargo-Hefner said. The county may also require an RFP, or “request for proposals,” and additional details about the project, such as projected operating costs.

The executive’s office and council also appear to be at odds over two other health care issues — the well-being of Gracedale Nursing Home in Northampton County and the cost of employee salaries.

McClure vetoed two council motions in September that sought bids to conduct a salary and income analysis to ensure they were competitive and an evaluation of the nursing home, which still relies on outside staffing agencies. McClure called the proposals “a waste of money.”

The council overrode McClure’s veto of the Gracedale study 6-2 and unanimously canceled the salary and income study in October.

In December, Vargo-Hefner read a letter from a nursing home resident.

“To whom it may concern, Gracedale is not well. If you could come here and question the inhabitants, you would hear the truth.

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Glenn Epps can be found at [email protected] or glenn_epps_on Twitter.

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