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Blue Mountain Health System now part of St. Luke’s University Health Network

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Palmerton Hospital has been renamed St. Luke’s Palmerton Campus. (File)
Palmerton Hospital has been renamed St. Luke’s Palmerton Campus. (File)

Blue Mountain Health System is now part of St. Luke’s University Health Network.

The merger received final approval from federal and state regulatory agencies on Dec. 21 and became effective Dec. 31, SLUHN officials announced in a news release today.

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

Blue Mountain has 1,100 employees and is Carbon County’s largest employer.

The two hospitals have been renamed St. Luke’s Palmerton Campus and St. Luke’s Gnaden Campus.

Terry Purcell was appointed president of the two hospitals, replacing Andrew E. Harris, who retired as president and CEO of Blue Mountain Health System, effective Dec. 31.

St. Luke’s is one of the two largest health systems – Lehigh Valley Health Network is the other – in the Lehigh Valley, with nine hospitals and nearly 300 outpatient sites serving 10 counties in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

In September, St. Luke’s announced plans to acquire Sacred Heart Healthcare System in Allentown and is waiting for regulatory approval.

“Together, we will work closely with our newest partner to expand access to quality health care services for the citizens of Carbon County,” said Rick Anderson, president and CEO of SLUHN.

Anderson thanked Harris for “outstanding leadership and service at Blue Mountain Health System over the years and also for playing a critical leadership role in the Blue Mountain/St. Luke’s merger.”

Purcell has been employed at Blue Mountain for more than 20 years and served as senior vice president of operations the past year. He grew up in Schuylkill County and earned a bachelor’s degree at Bloomsburg University and a Master of Business Administration at Wilkes University.

“With his deep ties to the region, we know Terry will serve both St. Luke’s and Carbon and the surrounding counties well,” Anderson said.

The merger comes at a time when it is increasingly difficult for small, independent hospitals, especially in rural areas, to be financially successful. Although Blue Mountain’s combined revenues for its hospitals in Lehighton and Palmerton had increased by $2.4 million between 2015 and 2016, to $92.4 million, it was still struggling financially, said Sam Kennedy, a spokesman for St. Luke’s.

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.

Blue Mountain employees were told in September 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.”

Blue Mountain had been courted by several large health network, but officials said they chose to merge with St. Luke’s because of 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.

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