A Northampton County administrator says talk of a county employee again becoming the administrator at the Gracedale nursing home is "premature."
Ross Marcus, director of Human Services, made the comment in response to a question from county council president John Cusick at a committee meeting on Thursday.
Marcus added, "Perhaps in a few years, we might [consider going] back to a county-paid administrator."
That prospect was apparently unsettling to some council members at the committee meeting.
When Cusick said he had heard there was "some interest in the county taking back management of Gracedale," it caused an audible moan and had some council members shaking their heads.
They were likely recalling the months of turmoil over Gracedale's future -- including its potential sale and a referendum to keep it in the county's hands -- before council brought in Premier Health Care, of King of Prussia, Montgomery Co., to manage the nursing home in September of 2011.
The company hired Millard Freeman as administrator, marking the first time that the top job was not held by a county employee.
The five-year contract the county signed with Premier in 2011 is worth
$1,989,885 million. The county has three one-year options, with the first one kicking in this September.
"Premier is helping Gracedale streamline policies and procedures, so the facility can be more effective in its operation," Marcus told WFMZ.com on Friday. "I don't think that effort is by any means completed yet. There's a lot more to be done.
"One of the things that happened when the county administrator ran the facility, some of our procedures and p[oliocies fell behind the times," Marcus continued. "That led to our costs being higher than they should have been, or could have been."
To people who suggest that the county could save money by bringing the administrator's job back in house, Marcus said, "They don't understand all the support staff that Premier brings to the facility and makes available to the facility. Some day, maybe it will make sense for us to change the contract. But not now."
He said Gracedale, which has 725 beds, is often is compared to the slightly larger Delaware County's Fair Acres Geriatric Center. "Their administrator is a county employee, and other staff is provided by Premier. Maybe in a few years we'll be ready for that, with Premier staying on, but in a smaller role."
At the committee meeting, Cusick asked Marcus for an estimate of the savings at Gracedale since Premier took over.
After Marcus said he would gather those figures, Cusick said, "I think they've done a good job and I would like to see them continue."