Mahoning planners debate need for LVHN hospital
Nathan Oiler, of RKR Hess Associates, presents plans for the proposed Lehigh Valley Health Network campus in Mahoning Township at a September meeting. DANIELLE DERRICKSON/TIMES NEWS
The Mahoning Township Planning Commission has recommended supervisors reject Lehigh Valley Health Network’s conditional use application for its proposed hospital off Route 443.
Lehigh Valley Health Network met with supervisors last month to discuss plans to build the 89,000-square-foot facility in Mahoning. The hospital plans to open in 2021.
But a planning official said Tuesday that he doesn’t see the need for a hospital in Mahoning, especially with St. Luke’s Health Network’s presence in Lehighton, Palmerton and — in the next few years — Franklin Township.
“I just don’t see the need for all these hospitals all of a sudden, other than it’s an ego thing,” Bruce Steigerwalt, planning commission member and Mahoning supervisor, said. “A race between your facility and St. Luke’s, that’s all I see this as.”
Being a not-for-profit, LVHN’s Mahoning campus wouldn’t provide the township with any property tax, commission members pointed out. They also cited increased traffic as a concern.
The 35 acres of farmland along the busy highway where LVHN hopes to build its future facility is zoned for commercial use and tailored toward retail spaces, Robert Slaw, another commission member and Mahoning supervisor, said.
Seeing as it’s not included on the township’s list of approved uses for that lot, a hospital is subjected to the conditional application process. LVHN submitted its application earlier this month.
In a deposition-like presentation, attorney Timothy Siegfried, representing LVHN, called on network officials and engineers associated with the project to give testimony showing the hospital would meet Mahoning’s conditional use requirements. Siegfried called on Terry Purcell, vice president of market development at LVHN and future president of its anticipated Carbon facility, to speak first.
In his address to the commission, Purcell said 30% of Carbon residents leave the county for health care. He added that the new hospital would staff 150, as well as bring in specialized physicians — a claim Steigerwalt pushed back on.
“Where are the doctors going to come from?” Steigerwalt asked.
“They can’t staff the facilities they have,” he said of local hospitals.
Purcell maintained that demand for additional care services exists in Carbon.
“The need is in the county,” he said.
The commission hoped to table the matter due to two absent members, but with a public hearing on the prospective hospital scheduled for Nov. 18, the decision of whether or not to recommend approval for LVHN’s conditional use application had to be made that night, according to Thomas Nanovic, township solicitor.
As a result, Steigerwalt and Slaw, alongside fellow member Patricia Snyder, suggested Mahoning supervisors deny it.
“I can understand that it’s nice having a hospital close,” Slaw said when casting his vote. “I’m not sure if the cons and pros outweigh each other, and for that reason, I’m thinking that it’s not an appropriate location … It’s a valuable asset. I would like to see it somewhere else.”
Supervisors will make their determination at the November hearing, which begins at 6 p.m.