Behind the List with John Kristel of Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network

65,000 patients annually at 60-plus locations

John Kristel, president and CEO of Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network in Allentown, says the health network provides well-paying, stable jobs to more than 2,100 people in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. - (Photo / Christopher Holland)

Health care is a growing industry in the region and beyond, and the Greater Lehigh Valley is home to excellent health care providers. From large hospitals to small, private practices, the many health care providers in the region provide all categories of service.

One of the largest employers in the region, Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network, makes a significant impact on the health care scene, as well as on the local economy.

Here to answer this week’s “Behind the List” questions and provide insight on the world of health care is John Kristel, president and CEO of Good Shepherd in Allentown.

Lehigh Valley Business: How long has Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network been operating in the region and what are its primary services?

John Kristel: Good Shepherd was founded 110 years ago when the Rev. John and Estella Raker took an orphan with disabilities into their home. The Rakers, along with their son Conrad, would go on to build a network of services that were truly forward thinking – including long-term care for the severely disabled, long-term acute care, pediatric services for children with physical and developmental impairments and one of the country’s first stand-alone rehabilitation hospitals.

Today, Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network is a nationally recognized post-acute leader, treating more than 65,000 patients a year at more than 60 locations in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

In addition to GSRN’s Lehigh Valley operations, Good Shepherd Penn Partners, a joint venture between Good Shepherd and Penn Medicine, provides inpatient and outpatient care throughout the Philadelphia region.

Good Shepherd is especially well known for its care for people with catastrophic injuries and conditions, such as spinal cord injury, brain injury, stroke, amputation and major multiple traumas, using leading-edge rehabilitation technologies.

LVB: With the cost of health care services continuously rising, how does Good Shepherd position itself and what strategies does it implement to stay on top of these changes?

Kristel: Good Shepherd has implemented numerous strategies across the post-acute continuum to help reduce health care costs and minimize the financial burden on our patients.

Our physical medicine and rehabilitation physicians and highly specialized therapists offer nonsurgical solutions for head, spine, muscle and joint pain. Numerous studies have proven physical medicine and rehabilitation and physical therapy services to be less costly than more invasive alternatives.

Good Shepherd’s long-term acute care hospital is the only post-acute facility in the region that can wean patients from ventilators, and at a lower cost than intensive care units. The same is true for Good Shepherd’s pediatric inpatient unit, which has proven to be a lesser cost alternative to lengthy NICU [neonatal intensive care unit] stays.

In addition, through applied research, we continuously develop innovative approaches to therapy in order to achieve outstanding patient outcomes with fewer visits per episode of care – resulting in fewer copays for patients.

LVB: How does Good Shepherd directly stimulate the local economy? How does it get involved with the local community?

Kristel: Good Shepherd is proud to be a substantial contributor and stabilizing force to the growing economic vitality of the nine counties where we operate. Last fiscal year, GSRN’s total spending had a ripple effect of more than $221 million, using multipliers from the U.S. Department of Commerce.

In addition, we provide well-paying, stable jobs to more than 2,100 people in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and our workforce has steadily grown for the past five years.

We also are proud to support our community each year by providing more than $10 million in charitable care and encouraging employees to volunteer their time and talents to local nonprofit organizations that share our vision for a healthier, more inclusive community.

LVB: What have been some of the biggest challenges and opportunities that Good Shepherd has encountered throughout its years in business?

Kristel: The national and local health care landscapes are ripe with change, but change is not a new concept for Good Shepherd, an organization that has not just survived – but thrived – for more than a century. We will continue to be agile and evolve as necessary to further our mission and advance our field.

One of the biggest challenges we face is staffing shortages caused by the evolution of our workforce and the increasing health care needs of older generations. It is estimated that 10,000 baby boomers are retiring per day, outpacing health care professionals joining the workforce.

Nowhere is this critical shortage more evident than in the vital role of nursing. To help reverse the trend, we formed partnerships with local colleges and universities to foster a more collaborative relationship between health care and educational systems.

We also offer significant nursing scholarships and other tuition reimbursement. Our clinicians welcome more than 500 students per year for residency training, internships and shadowing experiences.

One of Good Shepherd’s biggest opportunities is its increasingly global reach. Good Shepherd has solidified its reputation as a world leader in rehabilitation through experience, proven expertise and applied research. As a result, Good Shepherd has become an international destination for recovery for those with catastrophic conditions, attracting patients from across the globe to our hospital in south Allentown. Today, thousands of patients – 40 percent of our total volume – travel to Good Shepherd from places like California, New York, Alaska and Kosovo. …

LVB: Health care is expected to have the highest rate in job growth across all industries in the coming years. What does that mean for Good Shepherd? What does the future look like for Good Shepherd? Does it have plans for growth?

Kristel: Good Shepherd has a strong commitment to building better communities through strategic partnerships with organizations whose vision and values reflect our own. In the coming weeks, months and years, we will continue to grow through joint ventures, management contracts, acquisitions, startups and lease agreements.

Last year alone, Good Shepherd opened six new outpatient locations and one new inpatient location, and we plan to continue to add strategic locations to meet the unique needs of the communities and partners we serve.

Our partnership with Lehigh County is one that we are particularly proud to tout. In 2015, the county chose Good Shepherd to manage its two Cedarbrook nursing homes.

Together, we have steadily improved care for the 600-plus residents who live there. Under Good Shepherd’s management tenure, the Cedarbrook facilities have risen from a 2- to 5-star overall CMS [Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] ranking.

Good Shepherd’s partnership model positions the organization as an all-in-one, post-acute solution for acute-care hospitals, large networks, university health systems, skilled nursing facilities, assisted living facilities and more.

For the health care provider, we offer unmatched rehabilitation expertise and coordinated care. For the patient, we provide exceptional outcomes, compassionate care and excellent service.

Christopher Holland
Christopher Holland is a researcher for Lehigh Valley Business and blogs on arts and entertainment in the region.

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