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Widow of man who died in Lehigh Valley nursing home during COVID-19 pandemic sues county

Morning Call - 8/8/2022

A widow of a Bethlehem Township man who died during his stay at Gracedale nursing home is suing Northampton County.

Diana M. Raph is suing the county for more than $75,000, according to a complaint filed in federal court. She claims the Gracedale staff neglected her husband, causing his health to deteriorate, leading to his death.

Robert F. Raph, 72, was admitted Nov. 18, 2019, to Gracedale with an anticipated rehabilitation stint of about two weeks, according to the lawsuit. However, Raph remained there until Aug. 3, 2020, when he died, except for a one-week period in late December 2019 when he was transferred to St. Luke’s University Hospital in Fountain Hill with kidney failure. He was returned to Gracedale on Dec. 30, 2019.

Raph’s death occurred as the COVID-19 pandemic gripped hospitals, nursing homes and other care facilities, causing difficulty for some in maintaining enough employees and providing care. Gracedale, one of the largest nursing homes in the state, was no exception, with reduced staff and cuts in its occupancy from the normal 688-bed facility.

County officials have acknowledged difficulty in staffing Gracedale, particularly when COVID-19 posed challenges. County Executive Lamont McClure has said he wants the county to invest heavily in bolstering the struggling institution. The county in May offered $10 million in bonuses and on-site child care for employees.

McClure issued a statement saying Robert Raph had been in hospice care for seven months.

“While it’s unfortunate,” he said, “Gracedale will vigorously defend itself and prove that Robert was not neglected and staffing was at or in excess of the state requirement at the time of his passing and that it played no role in his demise.”

The lawsuit was filed by Philadelphia attorney Andrew Watto. Neither Watto nor Diana Raph returned telephone messages seeking additional comment.

Gracedale is the largest long-term care facility in the state under one roof. As one of 17 county-owned care homes in Pennsylvania, Gracedale, like Cedarbrook in Lehigh County, houses people who can’t afford private nursing homes.

Contact Morning Call journalist Anthony Salamone at

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