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St. Luke's and Blue Mountain health systems to merge

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The Palmerton campus of the Blue Mountain Health System. (Contributed)
The Palmerton campus of the Blue Mountain Health System. (Contributed)

Blue Mountain Health System based in Carbon County will merge with St. Luke's Health Network, one of the region's largest health systems, officials announced today.

The agreement was unanimously approved by the board of trustees at both nonprofit organizations and signed Monday.

The deal does not become complete until it passes regulatory approval, which is expected at the end of the year.

BMHS includes two hospitals, Gnaden Huetten in Lehighton and Palmerton in Palmerton, and a skilled nursing facility, The Summit at Blue Mountain in Lehighton.

Officials said it is increasingly difficult for small, independent hospitals, especially in rural areas, to be financially successful. BMHS' combined revenues for Lehighton and Palmerton were $92.4 million in 2016, an increase over 2015 when they were $90.6 million.

The two Carbon County hospitals, which had been independent and competed with each other, combined their organizations in 2004 into an integrated health system. They merged in 2016 to form Blue Mountain Hospital with two campuses.

BMHS employees were told the agreement includes “serious commitments by St. Luke’s to maintain and enhance services at both the Palmerton and Gnaden Huetten campuses,” including offering jobs to employees in good standing, retaining the medical staff and assuming physician employment agreements.

The information sheet sent to employees said a preliminary review indicated that “compensation in most instances will be enhanced.”

BMHS, which was courted by several large health networks, said among the reasons it chose to merge with SLUHN was its reputation for restoring struggling hospitals back to fiscal health, citing its mergers with Quakertown Community Hospital in 1995, Allentown Osteopathic in 1997, Miners Hospital in 2000 and Warren Hospital in 2012.

“Choosing the right partner that shared our mission and commitment to quality care was a priority,” Andrew E. Harris, president and CEO of BMHS, said in a statement.

“We now have an incredible opportunity to raise the level of health care in Carbon and neighboring counties and provide residents with even greater access to care.”

The merger will allow the combined health network to develop new programs and service opportunities and increase access to physician specialists in the Carbon County region, SLUHN said.

Richard A. Anderson, president and CEO of SLUHN, said, “Health care is a local issue, and, as such, health care services should be easily accessible to the community.”

He said its network has a long history of working collaboratively and forming successful partnerships with community hospitals that have joined its network.

BMHS, which employs about 1,000 people, will become part of a much larger, better resourced health system. SLUHN employs more than 11,000 people at seven hospitals and more than 270 outpatient sites throughout the Greater Lehigh Valley and in Warren and Hunterdon counties in New Jersey.

SLUHN, in partnership with Temple University School of Medicine, operates a regional medical school campus, and operates the nation’s oldest school of nursing and is a major teaching hospital.

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