As a couple hundred well-wishers cheered and applauded, officials dug the ceremonial shovelful of gravel neatly piled in front of them Thursday afternoon on what will be Geisinger St. Luke's Hospital, but the ease belied the complexity it took to arrive at that day.
The decision to build a new $65 million hospital on Route 61 near Orwigsburg, Schuylkill County – particularly one that would not be replacing another already there – was the product of fruitful market research and a symbiotic relationship between two large, financially healthy hospital networks looking to expand.
It began as St. Luke’s, based in Fountain Hill, started its western expansion about a decade ago. The network already had acquired a hospital in Coaldale, now St. Luke’s Miners Campus, in 2000, and now was eyeing two hospitals in Pottsville, part of Schuylkill Health System. Lehigh Valley Health Network, the largest competitor of St. Luke’s, ultimately won that battle in 2016.
Meanwhile, St. Luke’s was forging a relationship with Geisinger and announced it was forming a partnership with Geisinger’s health insurance plan.
By 2017, St. Luke’s had acquired two hospitals in neighboring Carbon County, Palmerton and Gnaden Huetten, through its merger with Blue Mountain Health System.
St. Luke’s had good geographic positioning in the region, except for the southern tier of Schuylkill, which lacked a hospital, said Robert Martin, senior vice president and chief strategy officer for SLUHN, a prime mover on the new hospital.
As St. Luke’s began researching the Schuylkill market, it learned “more than half the population left the county for inpatient stays in hospitals.”
That’s when it floated the idea of building a new hospital.
“It’s a huge undertaking to start a new nonreplacement hospital,” Martin said.
“We did market research and asked 400 households if they would support a new hospital,” he said.
The positive response, coupled with new partnerships and a shared culture with Geisinger, which has been in Schuylkill for more than 25 years, helped solidify St. Luke’s decision to build a hospital with Geisinger in a joint venture.
The arrangement of two health systems jointly building and owning a new hospital is unusual, and may be the first of its kind.
That Geisinger and St. Luke’s use the same electronic medical records system was another factor that made combining forces more favorable, Martin said.
As one of the speakers at the groundbreaking, Martin told the crowd that before he worked in health care, he used to wonder how hospitals came into being.
“Hospitals come from a small group of people who have a vision,” he said.
RECORD OF SUCCESS
Martin said St. Luke’s has the confidence in the success of building hospitals. St. Luke’s is building a new hospital in Richland Township, Bucks County, to replace the older St. Luke’s Quakertown Campus and it started construction of Women and Babies Pavilion at the St. Luke’s Anderson Campus in Bethlehem Township and renovations to the former Sacred Heart Hospital in Allentown, which it acquired this year.
Geisinger St. Luke’s will be an 80-bed acute care hospital with an emergency department and specialty services on 34 acres on Paramount Boulevard, off Route 61 in West Brunswick Township.
St Luke’s will manage the construction of the three-story, 120,000-square-foot building, which is expected to be completed in late 2019.
Geisinger’s presence in the community is apparent. The hospital will be built next to a Geisinger outpatient health care facility that is already open.
Dr. David T. Feinberg, president and CEO of Geisinger, said the health system knows the community well and the new hospital will enhance and provide better access to services.
“We want to take care of people as close to home as possible,” Feinberg said.
He said Schuylkill County has an older population and a high number of people with chronic conditions, such as obesity and diabetes, and many who suffer from substance abuse and mental health issues.
The hospital will be designed with not only the elderly patient in mind, Feinberg said, but also millennials, who have different needs and want different amenities, such as updated furniture and air conditioning that can be controlled with a smartphone.
“They will become our customer in the future,” he said.
200 PERMANENT JOBS
Gabe Kamarousky, president of Geisinger St. Luke’s, said the new hospital will not only care for an aging population but attract young families and professionals to the area.
The hospital will create 200 permanent jobs in a variety of fields, including 200 construction jobs, said Kamarousky, who had been vice president of operations for LVHN’s Schuylkill Campus in Pottsville.
Geisinger and St. Luke’s will staff the hospital, which will be managed by St. Luke’s.
Kamarousky, a native of Schuylkill who lives there with his wife and family, marveled at the new hospital being built by two large health systems.
“How amazing is that for Schuylkill County? Something new finally,” he told the crowd.
“An acute care hospital that will bring the benefit and enhance the lives of the residents of Schuylkill County and nearby Berks County. A new hospital has not been built in Schuylkill County in close to 90 years.”