L.A. Tarone
March 27, 2017 - 2:11 pm

That big sigh of relief you just heard came from every Hazleton City official.

The city had dodged a bullet it long feared.

Lehigh Valley Health Network announced it will not build a new hospital and will instead modernize and renovate the existing hospital.


“After a long period of assessing the design of the hospital of the future, we began to refocus on designing the health care of the future,” said Brian Nester, Lehigh Valley’s president and CEO. “This plan would allow us to address future needs rather than devoting precious community resources to a new hospital and a care model that is changing dramatically.”

City officials cheered.

The city was afraid Lehigh Valley would build a new hospital along the Airport Beltway, taking its earned income tax with it.

It’s a fear that city officials had long before Lehigh Valley entered the local health care picture. Even back in the days when the now-defunct Greater Hazleton Health Alliance owned and operated what was Hazleton General Hospital, city officials were afraid it would build a hospital out of the city and Hazleton would lose the revenue from the EIT hospital employees pay.

It was a fear that I heard often from city officials back in the days when I was a beat reporter for this newspaper. I heard it from city council members, members of the Hazleton Health Care Authority, and at least three mayors.

It was a noteworthy fear. EIT from hospital employees amounts to a lot of money.

At last check, the hospital had about 470 employees. Most make a decent salary. 1 percent of that salary goes to the city as EIT.

Taking that out of the city’s revenue pool would have created a huge hole. In a city that is revenue desperate, the loss of that money would have been something near catastrophic.

But now, the city can rest easy.

Lehigh Valley’s plans themselves look pretty sensible.

Nestor said a two-year assessment of things found it was “not prudent to construct a full replacement hospital but to focus on robust outpatient services while maintaining and modernizing the current hospital…”

Indeed, that does appear prudent.

The hospital building itself is far from obsolete. It was built during 1974-75 and opened in 1975, when the old Hazleton General Hospital, which dated to the turn of the previous century, was torn down. It appears to be in excellent condition and could seemingly be renovated to fit whatever need Lehigh Valley may have. And expanding the emergency room to include more bays is definitely needed.

So, the hospital on Broad Street will remain a hospital.

ELSEWHERE – Crestwood school officials made fools of themselves this week.

They thought an 18-year-old student, Seth Edwards of White Haven, had smoked pot on school grounds. When he told them he didn’t, that he’d smoked it before he went to school, officials decided to search his car, looking for marijuana.

Instead, they found a pocket knife in his car. They filed charges against him.

A pocket knife? Give me a break. This is absurd.

First of all, I don’t know you can call a pocket knife a weapon. But even in you can, it was locked in his car – he wasn’t carrying it and certainly didn’t threaten anyone with it.

Crestwood officials say the district has a “zero tolerance” for any weapons.

Apparently Crestwood officials have forgotten how ridiculous zero tolerance police are, and how many districts dropped or modified theirs a few years ago.

Zero tolerance policies were the feeder system for the Cash for Kids scandal in this county a few years ago. The crooked officials involved in the case had a built-in pipeline of more kids through zero tolerance.

 I don’t doubt that Edwards and his family have hired a lawyer and that Crestwood will be hearing from him soon.

Crestwood is a fine school district. It always ranks near the top of student performance in the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment exams. But its officials really blew it on this one.

The last thing school districts in this state need is the resurrection of “zero tolerance” policies.

A little common sense is a far better solution.

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