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President and CEO Rick Anderson’s Morning Call Opinion Piece
March 03, 2020

This article from St. Luke’s University Health Network President and CEO Rick Anderson originally appeared as an opinion piece in The Morning Call on March 1, 2020. Here is the unedited version: 

On Feb. 6, The Morning Call published a front-page article titled “How is community affected by LVHN, St. Luke’s rivalry?” The answer is simple: Competition has made both health systems in the Lehigh Valley better and benefits the entire community in many ways.

In three decades at the helm of St. Luke’s, I have observed that the good people of the Lehigh Valley are so blessed to have two outstanding health care systems. However, many citizens may not fully appreciate the many ways our home-grown, locally-controlled networks contribute to the wellbeing and economic vitality of our community.

Did you know the trustees of both Sacred Heart and Blue Mountain health systems sought mergers with St. Luke’s at the conclusion of a competitive comparison between St. Luke’s and another local health system? During that process, their trustees validated St. Luke’s would be the best avenue to ensure the continuation of quality health care for their communities. St. Luke’s did not “gobble up” Sacred Heart or Blue Mountain as reported. Sacred Heart and Blue Mountain requested help, and they turned to St. Luke’s, which provided the necessary resources and expertise to allow Sacred Heart and Blue Mountain to not only survive but thrive. Since joining St. Luke’s, Sacred Heart has undergone significant improvements and bolstered much-needed behavioral health services in downtown Allentown. In Blue Mountain’s service area, St. Luke’s has expanded services and broken ground on a full-service hospital to be built with American steel in Franklin Township, improving Carbon County residents’ access to specialty care.

Did you know that family and specialty physicians join St. Luke’s because our Network allows them to devote time and attention to their patients? Unfortunately, big government regulations require private practices to invest in expensive, difficult-to-use electronic medical record technology. St. Luke’s provides the necessary technological expertise and support, so doctors are enabled to directly focus on the care of their patients.

Did you know that St. Luke’s University Hospital-Bethlehem operates one of the highest volume adult trauma centers in Pennsylvania? When St. Luke’s announced the establishment of its trauma center two decades ago, a local hospital trauma center vigorously opposed our project, arguing the Lehigh Valley had no need for and could not sustain two trauma centers. Since then, St. Luke’s trauma center has saved countless lives and repaired the broken bodies of thousands of trauma patients. Today St. Luke’s operates the most trauma centers (Bethlehem, Miners Campus, Monroe Campus, Upper Bucks Campus) in the greater Lehigh Valley.

Did you know under Pennsylvania law St. Luke’s, like colleges, universities, churches and other nonprofits, is exempt from paying real estate taxes, but unlike colleges, universities, churches and other nonprofits, St. Luke’s has consciously chosen to voluntarily contribute significant property and school taxes? St. Luke’s pays over $10.5 million in annual property and school taxes through the many non-hospital properties (physician offices, outpatient locations, etc.) that it owns and leases.

Did you know St. Luke’s comes to the financial aid of patients who otherwise could not afford care by providing free or discounted services in the form of charity care and under-reimbursed care covered through government programs such as Medicaid and Medicare? Charity care may include St. Luke’s mobile health vans that treat students at local schools as well as significant job training to at-risk youth, parenting instruction to single mothers, special clinics for rural populations and other health care programs.

Did you know St. Luke’s community benefit represents the highest percentage of community benefit value among health systems in the Lehigh Valley? According to the IRS Form 990 filed with the federal government for fiscal year 2018, St. Luke’s community benefit to our region amounts to $191.8 million, or 12.2% of our Network’s total expense budget. This relieves a large tax burden for the care of many individuals within our community.

Did you know that St. Luke’s is a national leader in health care price transparency? St. Luke’s PriceChecker program, online for five years, allows patients with high deductibles and limited insurance to identify and lock in discounted prices before they visit their doctor or have various procedures performed.

Did you know that the Temple/St. Luke’s School of Medicine in existence since 2010 (the only medical school based in the Lehigh Valley), the St. Luke’s School of Nursing (the oldest continuously operated nursing school in the country) and our physician residency program are preparing the next generation of Lehigh Valley physicians and health care providers? The recent addition to the St. Luke’s Anderson Campus in Bethlehem Township provides expanded graduate medical education space for multiple residency programs and nearly doubles the number of residents and fellows trained within the Network to over 430 – the largest program in the Lehigh Valley. This expansion is nothing short of extraordinary, ensuring that Lehigh Valley residents will enjoy continued access to physicians despite a nationwide physician shortage. 

Did you know that in its annual comprehensive quality and safety review, the U.S. government ranks St. Luke’s University Health Network hospitals above all competitors? This ensures our patients are receiving the best care available anywhere in our Valley. St. Luke’s campuses were the only hospitals in the region to earn the highest five- and four-star ratings from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid (CMS). Seven St. Luke’s University Health Network hospitals – Bethlehem, Allentown, Anderson, Miners, Monroe, Quakertown and Warren (N.J.)  – were also awarded an “A” safety grade by the Leapfrog Group, a national nonprofit health care ratings organization. St. Luke’s University Hospital-Bethlehem is the only area hospital to have been named two years in a row a Leapfrog Top Hospital – one of the health industry’s most prestigious honors. Additionally, in 2019 St. Luke's was named one of the nation’s 100 Top Hospitals in the Major Teaching Hospital category by IBM Watson Health for the fifth year in a row and the seventh time overall.

Did you know that St. Luke’s is the Lehigh Valley’s lowest-cost health care system, helping to reduce health care expenses for the region’s businesses and their employees? According to IBM Watson Health, hospital costs at St. Luke’s chief competitor are more than 50% higher.

So, how has the rivalry between the two biggest health care networks affected our community? Competition has stimulated St. Luke’s to attain lofty goals that benefit all of our citizens in the Lehigh Valley. If The Morning Call cannot recognize this in its ongoing reporting, it is not only shoddy journalism, it is also “fake news.”

- St. Luke’s University Health Network President and CEO Rick Anderson