Salisbury Press

Monday, March 30, 2020

LEHIGH COUNTY COMMISSIONERS

Thursday, March 26, 2020 by DOUG GRAVES Special to The Press in Local News

Regional health bureau may be revisited

Concerns of the mother of a Lehigh County Jail inmate about how the Lehigh County Corrections Department is handling the coronavirus crisis may have resuscitated the long-dead idea of establishing a regional health bureau.

Lehigh County Commissioner Dr. Percy Dougherty suggested toward the end of the Lehigh County Commissioners meeting March 11 this might be a good time to revisit the plan that gained momentum among local Lehigh Valley governments and various stakeholders around 2008.

Dougherty recounted the history of the proposed regional health department that had ultimately failed when political winds changed. “I think this is something that is coming back to the fore again,” Dougherty said.

He said a previous commissioner had warned against a future pandemic as a justification for establishing a regional health department.

Dougherty recommended the topic be brought up again at an upcoming “leadership meeting” which is chaired by the President Commissioner Amy Zanelli with Lehigh County Executive Phillips Armstrong. The next leadership meeting is slated for April 6. Dougherty suggested, “We look back into this. It is something that is becoming more necessary as time goes on.”

Dougherty said, in a later interview, Lehigh County had approved the regional facility 9-0, but the idea was abandoned when, ultimately, a new slate of Lehigh County Commissioners halted the project by voting against the proposed budget for the plan.

At the close of the commissioner’s meeting, a concerned mother, Collette Bullock, pleaded with the Lehigh County Commissioners to take action to keep her incarcerated son and other inmates safe during the COVID-19 crisis.

Her son is now in Lehigh County Jail in Allentown, Bullock said.

“What is the contingency plan for the county inmates?” Bullock asked. “They are also humans and often society tends to forget this. They are mothers, fathers, sons, daughters with families who love and care for them. Just because they have made a mistake it should not be a death sentence.”

“Wouldn’t it be a good idea to let those who are nonviolent offenders and those who could not make bail and who are not a flight risk go at this time?”

Bullock also wants the inmates to have access to hand sanitizers and face masks.

She begged the commissioners to consider house release for bail-eligible prisoners and nonviolent offenders to reduce the population density at the Lehigh County Jail. “Let them go in the face of this pandemic we’ve never seen the likes of,” Bullock said.

“Drastic times call for drastic measures. Less population, less crowding would help avoid transmission [of disease] so quickly,” Bullock said.

The Lehigh County Public Information Office, when asked, said only that effective March 13, “Lehigh County Department of Corrections will restrict visitors in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

In other business, Cedarbrook Nursing Home nurse Donna Stinson objected to what she described as Lehigh County’s release of personal information of its employees, including her own.

“I’m here to protect my privacy and the privacy of every union worker in the county which has been violated,” Stinson said.

“Freedom Foundation is an organization with a name that sounds good, but it is actually an organization which is a front-group funded by billionaires.

“How dare you share your personal information without letting us know?” Stinson asked.

She said the county had released the personal information to the Freedom Foundation which she described as a “union-busting” organization.

“This group asked for our information and the county turned it over [to Freedom Foundation] without ever telling us,” Stinson said.

According to a statement posted on Freedom Foundation’s website, “Last week, the Freedom Foundation reached out to a group of county workers we’ve never spoken to before, outside of canvassing inside their counties. The message was simple: We wanted to inform them about the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2018 ruling in Janus v. AFSCME, which allows them to cease their dues deduction and save hundreds of dollars every year.”

Commissioners approved the following appointments: Jane R. Ervin to the Lehigh County Election and Registration Commission and Michael Harakal reappointed to the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission.

Ervin is a former Lehigh County commissioner. Harakal is the mayor of Whitehall.