New technology, aging population drive boom in health care construction

The significant growth of health care in the region continues to rise, and, with it, so does the construction of new facilities to meet the demand for services.

This growth is driven by several factors, including a burgeoning population, increasing numbers of aging baby boomers, a stronger preference for private patient rooms, and rapid advancements in medical technology.

Across the Greater Lehigh Valley, numerous health care sites have cropped up over the past year, and, with many expansions recently complete, more are on the way.

An update on some of the expansions and renovations includes:


Patient First, a provider of urgent and primary care services, opened three locations in the Greater Lehigh Valley in February, including one in Hanover Township, Northampton County, another in Wilson Borough and a third in Pottstown. Two years ago, Patient First opened a site in a shopping center on Tilghman Street in Allentown.

“A lot of our facilities have similar footprints,” said Ian Slinkman, director of marketing for Patient First. “The Allentown location is an end cap in a strip mall.”

Typically, facilities are about 7,000 square feet with 12 treatment rooms, he said.

Patient First has been in business for more than 30 years, Slinkman said. Locations are staffed with physicians and offer on-site labs, prescription drugs and primary care services, in addition to emergency care.

“We can see a significant proportion of hospital visitors,” he said.


Lehigh Valley Health Network is embarking on several projects that will expand its presence in the region. Serfass Construction will build a health center for LVHN at Fogelsville next to the Weis Markets near Route 100.

Services will include laboratory services through health network labs, primary care, obstetrics, pediatrics, ExpressCare, rehabilitation, X-ray and ultrasound. An opening is anticipated in spring, said Brian Downs, spokesman for LVHN.

Also, LVHN will move Health Network Labs from 2024 Lehigh St. in Allentown to what was a vacant property at 794 Roble Road in Hanover Township, Lehigh County.

“They plan to move in late 2014 and be operational at the new location in early 2015,” Downs said. “About 400 people will be moving from 2024 to the new building, which is about 102,000 square feet, about twice the size of the Lehigh Street location.”

The new building will house HNL’s main laboratory testing facility and administrative offices.

LVHN’s Advanced Intensive Care Unit and some of the health network’s nonclinical services will remain at 2024 Lehigh St. LVHN is assessing the building to refit it for other nonclinical services, Downs said.


At Reading Health System, a major project is underway to expand its hospital facility, which includes replacement of perioperative rooms and the addition of a five-and-a-half-story patient tower, according to Mark McNash, vice president of support services for Reading Health System.

The Seventh Avenue project, as it is known, includes the construction of five patient units with 30 private rooms in each unit. Reading Health System broke ground last September and plans to take occupancy of the operating rooms in late summer next year and occupy the new patient rooms by 2017, McNash said.

This project also involves building 24 operating rooms. Six will be hybrid operating rooms, described by McNash as rooms that can be easily transformed to provide different operating procedures – while keeping the patient in the room.

“It’s new technology that’s come about more so in the cardiology area,” he said.

As an example, if a patient immediately needs open heart surgery, rather than transporting the person to another room, the patient can be treated in the same space.

The project is on the last remaining greenspace on the system’s home at Seventh Avenue and Parkside Drive.

McNash said the market appears to be demanding more private patient rooms in hospitals, particularly since it aids in the healing process and helps prevent infection.

“We will be working to increase our percent of private rooms; right now we are at approximately 35 percent …,” he said.

“The Seventh Street project is really coming about because of the demand for technology in the perioperative environment,” McNash said. “Today’s technology, with all the equipment, the rooms of the old cannot accommodate all the equipment.”

New rooms call for sizes between 600 and 650 square feet, he added.

“It’s also going to give us the ability to increase our emergency room capacity,” McNash said.


At its main campus at Fourth and Chew streets in Allentown, Sacred Heart Hospital has been deeply involved in construction to modernize and upgrade its facility.

“For us, it’s been a busy year in terms of construction,” said John Nespoli, president and CEO of Sacred Heart.

Sacred Heart Hospital in Allentown is completing Five Tower, a floor that will open in December in the hospital’s medical/surgical tower.

This project involves creating a family type atmosphere for the modern, private in-patient rooms known as the planetree model, Nespoli said.

“I think people are really seeking privacy and modern quarters,” he said.

Aside from physical construction and renovations, the hospital is upgrading its power lines.

“We are also putting major dollars into upgrading the infrastructure of the main tower,” Nespoli said.

It is the fourth floor to be modernized, and the hospital seeks to complete the remaining four floors in the next couple of years.

Sacred Heart recently bought 451 Chew St., a building attached to the main campus, and recruited about 25 new physicians for the space, Nespoli said.

The hospital built a new primary care suite, and Nespoli said the demand for medical office space is growing. There are about 150,000 square feet of office space on campus at an occupancy rate of 90 percent, up from about 50 percent a few years ago.

Across from Fourth and Chew streets is a 20,000-square-foot building Sacred Heart is renovating so it can move 70 hospice and home care workers into the space.

Outside the city, Sacred Heart has a presence at Walbert Avenue and Cedar Crest Boulevard in South Whitehall Township at a recently built primary care facility.

Additionally, Nespoli said, Sacred Heart has a significant primary care campus at Northampton and office space in Coopersburg.

Sacred Heart recently installed electronic technology in all of its office buildings and health care facilities and upgraded its central processing centers.

“We are growing out of our space and we anticipate we will need additional capacity within the next couple of years,” Nespoli said.

It has 1,300 employees and, at its main campus, total outpatient visits at nearly 200,000.

Sacred Heart is looking at additional usage, which could include commercial, residential, educational or health care on a parcel in front of the hospital.

The hospital also wants to build a senior housing center on campus.

“We intend to put a geriatric outpatient center within the senior housing,” Nespoli said.


St. Luke’s University Health Network has been building larger medical centers over the past year, said Ray Midlam, vice president of business development and planning for St. Luke’s. One of its newest projects is St. Luke’s West End Medical Center in South Whitehall Township, which includes a sports and human performance center.

The project is being completed in several parts and includes urgent care and expanded offices in the 108,000-square-foot building.

The center opened in July, and St. Luke’s is planning another 20,000 to 30,000 square feet of development at the site.

At West End Medical Center, St. Luke’s recently started building an orthopedic suite. Pain management recently went in and it already has a radiology department. Next, it will add physical therapy. The orthopedic suite will open by October, followed by the physical therapy unit.

“We are trying to coordinate the care into one single spot,” said Denise Rader, director of media relations for St. Luke’s.

St. Luke’s recently finished its Wind Gap Medical Center, while St. Luke’s Care Now, an urgent care center in Wind Gap, opened in March.

The network continues to develop the Anderson Campus in Bethlehem Township, having recently added an extra floor to the hospital and doubling the size of its emergency department.

In Phillipsburg, near its Warren Hospital location, St. Luke’s is reclaiming space in a shopping center. It seeks to add orthopedics and physical therapy in that location, now called St. Luke’s Warren Hospital Hillcrest Plaza, Midlam said.

“Hopefully by the end of this year, early next year, we will start seeing patients there,” he said.

The overall goal is to build the plaza into a multiuse medical center, Rader said.

“They are more efficient for us to run,” Rader said. “When we have a lot of services located in one area, hopefully to try to have one-stop shopping. We can offer a lot more services than we would 10 years ago.”

A growing business unit for St. Luke’s is the health and fitness centers that it would like to have in all of its hospitals, and it is looking to establish a stronger focus on sports performance.

Brian Pedersen
Reporter Brian Pedersen covers construction, development, warehousing and real estate and keeps you up to date on the changing landscape of our community. He can be reached at brianp@lvb.com or 610-807-9619, ext. 4108.

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