Saving hospital a tribute to Rep. Keith McCall
One of the many, and maybe one of the most significant, accomplishments of Rep. Keith McCall's tenure in Harrisburg was the preservation of an area asset that we in the Panther Valley and Tamaqua areas have almost always taken for granted - a community hospital and skilled nursing facility in Coaldale. That fact seems to have been somewhat overlooked by the press in recent weeks news accounts relating to Keith's resignation announcement.
In the late 1980s - early 1990s a second term PA governor from the northeast seemed determined to divest the few remaining state general hospitals, which were originally founded to treat injured coal miners but eventually evolved into general area hospitals offering many medical services, including delivering babies to local residents. In 1991 only Philipsburg in Centre County, Shamokin in Northumberland County, and Ashland and Coaldale in Schuylkill remained. The state alternative to divesting a hospital to a community or health care system operation was closure.
In Coaldale, closure would have meant that local residents needing inpatient hospitalization or emergency care would have had to travel to Pottsville, Hazleton, or Lehighton. Many jobs would have also been lost.
Recognizing the hardships closure would bring to our area, Rep. McCall spearheaded a comprehensive and determined effort to assure the survival of Coaldale Hospital and Skilled Nursing Facility. He received and coordinated support from the hospital's board of trustees, the medical staff, AFSCME Local 2445, local governments, area residents, and community organizations. Keith was the key liaison between local efforts and the Department of Public Welfare in Harrisburg and Scranton which was responsible for the operation of all state general hospitals. It was not an easy fight. (I know of these matters because I was the last state administrator of CSGJ from 1987 to 1992.)
Through his dogged perseverance, a Philadelphia area health care management firm was finally selected to coordinate the turnover of the Coaldale Hospital to community control on Feb. 14, 1992. The same firm also agreed to assume the management of Ashland State General Hospital with a local board of governance in that community as well.
While many jobs were saved and health care services maintained for area residents at the time, the net result of Keith's commitment and dedication in 1991-92, and a fitting tribute to his legacy, is today's shining star operation of St. Luke's Miners Memorial Hospital in Coaldale. Therefore, on behalf of all area residents who at some time in their lives benefitted from the presence of the Coaldale State General Hospital and Skilled Nursing Facility and its successors in our midst we say...
THANK YOU KEITH! A JOB WELL DONE!
Frank J. Parano