Whitehall-Coplay Press

Saturday, July 21, 2018

County commissioner concerned with Cedarbrook progress

Wednesday, August 9, 2017 by Douglas Graves Special to The Press in Local News

Lehigh County Commissioner Brad Osborne expressed frustration at what he sees as slow progress on decisions concerning the 370-bed Cedarbrook Nursing Homes. According to Osborne, a much-anticipated operational analysis for Cedarbrook — which has been two years in the making — was delivered to Lehigh County Executive Tom Muller July 21. However, according to Osborne, Muller sent commissioners an email indicating he does not plan to forward the report until the Aug. 23 board meeting.

Osborne would like to see it sooner.

“If the county has the document, the board of commissioners should be able to see it,” Osborne said at the July 26 commissioners meeting. “The county (administration) has seen the report, but the board will not see it until next month.”

Osborne said seeing the document earlier would allow more time to consider its recommendations before the county budget is presented to the commissioners Aug. 31. Commissioners will have until Oct. 25 to approve the budget, he said.

Muller sees Osborne’s concerns as a lot of “campaign speaking” in reference to Osborne’s political aspirations. Osborne has been a commissioner since 2012; he was a South Whitehall Township commissioner for seven years. He announced in January that he would seek election to the office of Lehigh County executive.

Muller said in an interview that he had received the Cedarbrook analysis but had asked Good Shepherd to clarify some aspects of the report. He said he hoped the analysis could be submitted to the commissioners at their Aug. 9 meeting. This goal commitment is consistent with a statement from Commissioner Dan Hartzell, who told the commissioners he had taken advantage of Muller’s “open door policy” and discussed the operational analysis. Hartzell said at that meeting, Muller has expressed the hope that he could present the operational analysis at the Aug. 9 meeting.

Cedarbrook Senior Care & Rehabilitation is a county-owned organization with one set of buildings in South Whitehall near Dorney Park and with another facility in Fountain Hill. Both are operated for the county by Good Shepherd of Allentown.

Muller said operating costs are much more tied to the needs of the occupants than to any particular building option. Of the 632 occupants at Cedarbrook, 561 are Medicaid funded.

“We lose money on every Medicaid occupant,” Muller said.

Other occupants are on Medicare, while 40 are on “private pay” plans, which, according to Muller, do not cost the taxpayers money.

Muller added he sees an increasing number of dementia patients at the county facility. He put the current number of dementia patients between 360 and 380 occupants. He said he expects to address this issue to commissioners soon.

In other business, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation Project Manager Brandy Rotz and others representing PennDOT explained the status of the planned replacement for the bridge where Lehigh Street goes over the Little Lehigh Creek not far from Mill Street. The existing bridge, built in 1940, is structurally deficient, according to PennDOT.

Rotz said the new bridge will be 14 feet wider that the current bridge, going from 42 feet to 56 feet. The bridge will be designed to withstand a “100-year flood event.”

This is a term indicating that, statistically, the creek’s water level will exceed the capacity of the bridge once every 100 years; however, in reality, that event may occur more (or less) frequently than every 100 years.

However, Rotz said the bridge design allows for the water to flow over the bridge in a 50-year flood event.

Commissioner Dr. Percy Dougherty expressed concern that 50-year flood events may come more frequently due to stormwater run-off from paved areas.

Mike Ziegler, owner of Ziegler’s RV at 440 Lehigh St., attended the meeting and described how backed-up stormwater has flooded his business three times since 2001.

The PennDOT team said construction of the bridge will take “two construction seasons,” with construction to commence in 2019 and to be completed in 2020. Pedestrian and vehicle access will be continued or maintained during construction. It will cost $4 to $6 million.

Also at the meeting, commissioners approved the $134 million Lehigh County capital plan for 2018-22.

They also approved a resolution that will pay for interpreters and translators for the county.