St. Luke’s CEO Rebukes Southern Lehigh School Board in Letter

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UPDATE: Read the Southern Lehigh School District’s statement issued Thursday in response to Richard A. Anderson’s letter.

In a Jan. 31 letter to Southern Lehigh School Board members, St. Luke’s University Health Network CEO & President Richard A. Anderson criticized the manner in which the board decided to remove SLUHN as a collaborator on its COVID Health & Safety Plan last month.

Women & Babies Pavilion

St. Luke’s President and CEO Richard A. Anderson speaks at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Women & Babies Pavilion at the hospital’s Anderson Campus in Bethlehem Township in January 2020. (FILE PHOTO)

“It has come to my attention through a Jan. 25 article in ‘the Morning Call‘ that the Southern Lehigh School Board, under your leadership, voted to remove St. Luke’s University Health Network as a collaborator on the school district’s Health & Safety Plan,” Anderson wrote in the letter addressed to school board president Mary Joy Reinartz, which was also copied to district superintendent Dr. Michael Mahon.

A copy of Anderson’s letter–in which he made clear that it wasn’t the board’s decision that was at issue–appears at the end of this story.

“The purpose of my letter is not to question or disagree with the School Board’s recent decision, but to express disappointment, dismay and disapproval in the manner this issue was addressed (at the board’s Jan. 24 meeting),” Anderson wrote, before noting that “(SLUHN) has selflessly volunteered the professional advice of our nationally recognized infectious disease professionals” and “politics was never a factor in any advice offered.”

“I am appalled at the tone of the comments from your School Board members and you at the (Jan. 24) meeting,” he continued. “One would have thought as a leader you, or someone would have the courtesy to alert a St. Luke’s representative in advance that the issue concerning masking and St. Luke’s would be discussed at a public meeting.”

In conclusion, Anderson said there would be direct consequences for the district for the manner in which it was dropped from Southern Lehigh’s COVID health and safety plan.

“Although numerous St. Luke’s employees reside in the Southern Lehigh School District, this is to advise you that effective immediately St. Luke’s will no longer collaborate or provide information to the Southern Lehigh School District related to COVID or other public health issues,” he said. “We at St. Luke’s practice respect and civility, basing our decisions on science, not politics.”

St. Luke’s University Health Network Corporate Communications Director Sam Kennedy confirmed that Anderson’s letter was shared with all SLUHN employees who live in the Southern Lehigh School District because they have a direct connection to the subject of it.

Some of the services St. Luke’s has provided or currently provides the district include sports medicine services such as annual sports physicals and St. Luke’s Fitness Membership discounts for board members, administrators, teachers, staff and students.

As of Thursday, the COVID-19 Resources page on the school district website still affirmed that “locally, the Southern Lehigh School District will continue to seek guidance from medical staff at both Lehigh Valley Health Network and St. Luke’s University Health Network in the creation of the Health and Safety Plan documents,” that “masking (is) required for St. Luke’s athletic training” and that “masking (is) required when accessing school-based services through LVHN.”

SLSD Covid Resource Page Screenshot

A screenshot of the Southern Lehigh School District webpage taken Thursday, Feb. 3, shows St. Luke’s University Health Network still listed as an advisor on matters involving COVID. In his Jan. 31 letter to Southern Lehigh School Board president Mary Joy Reinartz, SLUHN President and CEO Richard A. Anderson told her that “effective immediately St. Luke’s will no longer collaborate or provide information to the Southern Lehigh School District related to COVID or other public health issues.”

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The Morning Call reported that during the Jan. 24 board discussion Anderson referenced in his letter, Reinartz said to “remove St. Luke’s from the cover (of the Health & Safety Plan)” and board member Jeffrey Dimmig added, “lose collaboration with St. Luke’s.”

The agenda for that meeting did not include any specific mention of St. Luke’s status as a health & safety plan collaborator, but listed “Consideration/Action: Revisions to the 2021-2022 Health and Safety Plan” under the Superintendent’s portion of the agenda.

According to the Morning Call article, board members in favor of removing St. Luke’s as a collaborator believed doing so made sense because as a result of changes made to the plan the district is no longer following all SLUHN recommendations.

The vote to drop St. Luke’s as a collaborator was approved 6-3, with board members Dr. Priya Sareen, Emily Gehman and Kyle Gangewere dissenting.

Board decisions in disagreement with SLUHN recommendations have been made over the past two months, since Reinartz and three other newly-elected members were seated, but the most significant split with St. Luke’s and other local health officials occurred last month when the board voted to make masks optional in the district beginning Jan. 24.

Although new to the board, Reinartz was elected president by other members who cited her leadership experience as the former executive director of Via of the Lehigh Valley, a nonprofit human service agency that provides services to individuals with disabilities.

Saucon Source has contacted both Reinartz and Mahon for comment on Anderson’s letter and its potential implications. We will update this story if further information is received.

The next Southern Lehigh School Board meeting will be held Monday, Feb. 14 at 7:30 p.m. in the high school cafeteria. A YouTube livestream of meetings is also available.

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