With two hospitals under construction in the region, St. Luke’s University Health Network wants to build a third hospital, this time near Lehighton, Carbon County.
The Franklin Township Planning Commission and St. Luke’s officials discussed the health care network’s proposal last week to build a 130,000-square-foot, 80-room hospital off Interstate 476’s Mahoning Valley Interchange.
The $70 million hospital would be built on Harrity Road near Route 209 on about 80 acres of vacant land St. Luke’s bought for $2.5 million.
Bob Martin, senior vice president and chief strategy officer, SLUHN, said the hospital in Franklin Township would be in an ideal location with stunning views, and is visible and accessible from the interstate and equidistant to St. Luke’s Palmerton and Gnaden Huetten hospitals.
SLUHN acquired Palmerton and Gnaden Huetten, two aging hospitals from a merger with Blue Mountain Health System late last year. Both campuses have about 900 employees, the same number that is projected to be employed at the new hospital.
St. Luke’s has not made a final decision whether to build a new hospital or upgrade the existing two campuses, Martin said.
“We are effectively in long-term planning,” he said.
“Palmerton is about 100 years old and Gnaden Huetten is about 75 years old, so we have to make an assessment about the facility and technology needs of both of those hospitals and do a value calculation over time and see if it makes sense to continue to invest in both hospitals separately or join them together in one hospital,” he said.
“And if we did that, what services would we keep in the local communities and which would migrate into one new hospital.”
One drawback is the area does not have a lot of infrastructure for development, he said. The closest water supply is ¾ of a mile away from the proposed hospital site.
The new location has advantages, Martin said, such as great access to Gnaden Huetten and Palmerton campuses, access to the Northeast Extension, and is only 25 minutes from Allentown.
“So when a large network like we are is moving physicians around to support other campuses, it certainly makes it more accessible than going to two hospitals and two communities in that region,” Martin said.
The hospital in Franklin Township would be a general community hospital with a full-service emergency room, medical surgical beds and intensive care unit, providing a similar level of care available at Gnaden Huetten and Palmerton campuses, but with updated equipment and technology.
St. Luke’s, which has been undergoing massive expansion in recent years, is building hospitals near Orwigsburg, Schuylkill County and near Quakertown, Upper Bucks County.
St. Luke’s new Carbon County hospital would resemble the Orwigsburg hospital not only physically, but also in the demographics of the community it serves, which skews older.
In June, Frankin Township passed a health overlay ordinance district that would permit construction of a health care facility.
The Franklin Township planning commission and engineer will review the plans at its next meeting in September.