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President of newly merged hospitals looks to improve health care in Carbon County

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    Terry Purcell was recently named president of the St. Luke’s Palmerton Campus and St. Luke’s Gnaden Huetten Campus. JARRAD HEDES/TIMES NEWS

Published January 12. 2018 11:15PM

Terry Purcell is no stranger to mergers.

He was vice president of human resources for Gnaden Huetten Hospital when it merged with Palmerton Hospital in 2004. Now, 14 years later, Purcell is set to guide the two facilities into their next chapter following Blue Mountain Health System’s merger with St. Luke’s University Health Network.

After the merger was made official Dec. 31, Purcell was named president of Blue Mountain’s two hospitals, which have been renamed St. Luke’s Palmerton Campus and St. Luke’s Gnaden Huetten Campus.

“Most important to me is improving the health care in Carbon County,” Purcell said. “We’re going to have improved access to specialty and primary care physicians for the residents. Right now, a lot of residents leave the county and seek health care services elsewhere. By working with St. Luke’s, we are going to get specialist physicians up here and prevent the need for our residents to have to travel to Bethlehem for their health care.”


Purcell’s career at Gnaden Huetten started in 1994 when he was hired as its director of human resources. Just a year later, he was promoted to vice president of human resources.

His next title change came in 2006, when he became vice president of ambulatory and support services.

In March 2017, Purcell accepted the senior vice president of operations position, a title he held until his most recent appointment.

Employees to remain a focus

The average employee stayed at Blue Mountain for 12 years, which is twice the national average, and Purcell said he expects the employee/employer relationship to continue to thrive under St. Luke’s.

“The people that work here are here because they care about the residents of the community,” Purcell said. “Our employee base is very dedicated. They’ll see things will be better working with St. Luke’s.”

More than 400 employees attended an informational session last week that covered topics such as compensation and benefit plans. According to Purcell, the pay for 99 percent of Blue Mountain employees will be “much higher” under St. Luke’s, and benefit packages will be even stronger.

“Our employees will see a lot more of an opportunity from a financial standpoint,” he said. “Good things take time though, and we have asked them to be patient. We can’t make a million decisions in one day, so some of these projects are going to take a little time. We have told them we’ll be open and honest and we’ll communicate with them as we hear things and as we know things. It will take a little time before we are fully integrated with the network.”

Services to expand

Before the merger, physician recruitment was the biggest challenge faced by Blue Mountain. Carbon County ranks 61st out of 67 counties in Pennsylvania for access to physicians.

“It is difficult for rural hospitals to recruit physicians,” Purcell said. “It is extremely difficult for independent hospitals to do that. Being part of St. Luke’s will help us recruit easier. What is nice is we’ll be able to have specialists work here, work at Miners and also work at some of the other hospitals in the network. I’m very confident we’re going to succeed in that venture.”

While the merger is complete, Purcell said it’s still business as usual at Blue Mountain’s facilities. One of the first noticeable changes will be access to specialty physicians.

“Right now, we have a vascular surgeon one day a week,” he added.

“St. Luke’s provided nine vascular surgeons. They’ll be open in the very near future and seeing patients. Critical care services is probably something that changed on day two. Right now, we have one critical care specialist that can’t be available all day, every day. Last week, we had nine critical care specialists who are responsible for 24/7 coverage of our intensive care unit. In the past we would have to transfer patients out because we did not have a physician available.”

An interventional radiologist, which will be shared with St. Luke’s Miners Campus in Coaldale, will be available on a full-time basis starting in February.

“He will be able to do procedures that in the past we had to send patients down to the Lehigh Valley to receive,” Purcell said.

When Blue Mountain joined St. Luke’s, it closed its quick care facility at Gnaden Huetten at the end of November.

“Other than that and maybe one physical therapy site or two phlebotomy sites, there is not a lot of duplication of services,” Purcell said.

New health information system on the horizon

In addition to adding services for patients, employees are set to see a new project unveiled this summer.

The Epic health information system will help physicians coordinate a patient’s care, even if they are treated at another facility.

“If a patient goes to another hospital that uses Epic, a doctor will be able to instantly pull up all of that information,” Purcell said. “Physicians won’t be left guessing and will be able to make better decisions for patients.”

Purcell said other projects are also in the works that can’t be discussed just yet.

Future of hospitals

Purcell said he is extremely proud of the two hospitals, and St. Luke’s is working on bringing additional services to both venues in the near future.

“Our emergency rooms are busy, as is the inpatient/outpatient traffic,” he added.

In his eyes, however, the merger with St. Luke’s was a lifesaver.

“The future of health care in small, independent hospitals is not going to survive, so I think this was the right thing for Carbon County to join St. Luke’s,” Purcell said.

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