By Kaylee Lindenmuth | firstname.lastname@example.org
It's being touted as Schuylkill County's first new hospital in almost a century -- the Geisinger/St. Luke's combination hospital along Route 61 in West Brunswick Township opened today.
Additionally, the front page of yesterday's Lehighton Times News shows that the Lehigh Valley Health Network has received zoning approval to build a hospital in Mahoning Township between Tamaqua and Lehighton.
As new hospitals are being built elsewhere, the question has been posed numerous times by our readers: why not here? In the early 1970s, northern Schuylkill was home to two of Schuylkill County's then-five hospitals. We had Locust Mountain State Hospital right here in the Greater Shenandoah area in Shenandoah Heights, and Ashland State General Hospital in Fountain Springs. Coaldale had the Miners Memorial Medical Center, while Pottsville had Good Samaritan Medical Center and the Pottsville Hospital and Warne Clinic.
Every hospital listed above has survived to date except ours, except the ones in northern Schuylkill County, using the Sentinel's coverage area as the definition (Ryan and Delano Townships are the eastern limit). Miners Memorial is now St. Luke's Miners Hospital, and Good Sam and Pottsville are the two Lehigh Valley Hospital - Schuylkill facilities.
Regarding our local hospitals, Locust Mountain Hospital has at least found a use, as the Ridgeview Health and Rehabilitation Center. The ex-Ashland State General, most recent Saint Catherine's, has been vacant since the hospital closed in 2012. The property was listed for sale for $1.5 Million around this time last year, though said listing is no longer available online and the Schuylkill County Parcel Locator shows the last ownership change as 2015.
According to that listing, the Ashland hospital sits on a 20.7 acre tract of land, under the 34.12 the new West Brunswick hospital sits on, according to the Schuylkill County Parcel Locator.
Geisinger officials, in a media release, tout the new West Brunswick hospital as an effort to "make health care easier for area residents by bringing new services closer to home." Though, the hospital is located about 15 minutes, nine miles, outside of the City of Pottsville, which has the two Lehigh Valley Hospitals and urgent cares through Geisinger and Lehigh Valley.
Shenandoah, though, is just under a half hour's drive from those same resources in Pottsville, twelve miles away. Shenandoah itself has no medical resources from the major health networks, instead, such resources are located in neighboring towns, making what could be a short walk into a transportation hassle for someone without a car.
Factor in winter weather, and medical care is an outright hazard to access from Shenandoah. Our nearest hospital options are, as mentioned Lehigh Valley Hospital - Schuylkill about 12 miles away, via Route 61, the Frackville/St. Clair grade; Geisinger Shamokin Hospital, 23 miles away via Route 54; Lehigh Valley Hospital - Hazleton, 21 miles away; and St. Luke's Miner's Hospital, 21 miles away via Route 54. If you're familiar with the area, you'll certainly know how those roads can be in the wintertime.
According to census data from 2010, roughly 38,000 people live in northern Schuylkill County, and are currently underserved. The Morning Call earlier this year explored such issues in a four-part series. In it, the series explores how some residents of the eastern portion of our county and western portion of Carbon struggle without access to care, especially without adequate transportation. In one article, a St. Luke's doctor tells the Allentown newspaper that about a quarter of his patients miss appointments because they can't get there. In another, the reporter followed a Lansford woman who trekked on foot from her home to the Coaldale hospital to find relief for a severe toothache from a tooth which needed to be pulled.
While the series focused on the Greater Tamaqua area and part of the Poconos, such problems exist in the Greater Shenandoah area as well.
Essentially, the point we're trying to make is that we need a hospital up here. To borrow a local colloquialism, we need medical care north of the mountain. Adding a hospital in the Shenandoah, Mahanoy City, or Ashland areas wouldn't necessarily be expanding services to new areas, but restoring services to areas that need them, and evidently, health networks which are supposed to serve our area have the resources to do so, if they're putting up hospitals in West Brunswick and Mahoning Township, Carbon County. Beyond here, in central Pennsylvania, hospitals are being built and renovated left-and-right.
So why not do it here? Why not build a new hospital, or renovate and reopen St. Catherine's?