Lee Levicoff, the director of planning and construction management at St. Luke’s University Health Network in eastern Pennsylvania, has worked in almost every niche imaginable in the building industry, yet he keeps coming back to health care.
Now 54, Levicoff began his career at the age of 15 and quickly progressed, from carpenter to foreman to superintendent to project manager and, eventually, to executive. By the age of 28, he was supervising up to 400 construction workers and would go on to build everything from high-rises and malls to major university buildings, big-box stores, roads and bridges, ship-based array systems for Lockheed Martin, and many health-care and hospital projects.
For Levicoff, nothing in the world of building and construction compares to the heart and soul of the health-care industry—especially a nonprofit, community-based health network such as St. Luke’s. What started in 1872 as a small hospital to care for the steel workers of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, has grown into one of the largest health-care systems in the state with 215 sites serving more than one million residents in an eight-county area. Levicoff is currently overseeing construction of the seventh hospital in the St. Luke’s network, but says there is a big difference between their approach to expansion and that of a typical large hospital network.
“We’re not one of the behemoths that might go in and take over other hospitals just to put their name on it,” Levicoff says. “We invest in our hospitals and in the communities they serve.”
St. Luke’s approach to expansion often involves partnering with existing community hospitals that are struggling financially. For example, the former Allentown Osteopathic Hospital was an independent hospital that St. Luke’s acquired to modernize their facilities. “In cases like that, we come in and we don’t change a lot, but we bring them into the 21st century technology-wise and help them be more successful,” Levicoff says. The goal is always to maintain a sense of community ownership, rather than create the feeling of being run by a detached entity with its own agenda.
Whether it’s renovating historic structures rather than tearing them down or building new facilities that respect the architectural traditions of the region, Levicoff strives to make the translation between design and organizational philosophy throughout St. Luke’s portfolio. “We really want to be integrated into the community right away, which means the hospital and building design need to reflect that mission as well as the local culture.”
The Benet House
One of Bethlehem’s most distinguished citizens was Stephen Vincent Benet, a prominent American author and poet who was born in 1898 in a home now owned by St. Luke’s. The Victorian mansion is immediately adjacent to St. Luke’s School of Nursing (the oldest nursing school in the US, dating from 1884) and has recently been renovated by the hospital to house its human resources department. Levicoff describes the internal layout as a bit of a maze, but says they chose not to completely gut the building and instead found other ways to “create a pleasant and effective work environment.”
“We took many pains to restore the original architecture of the building,” he says. “We’ve even added some sustainable materials that are decorative and commensurate with the time period.” The house is full of beautiful handcrafted stairs, railings, and millwork and includes some leaded and stained glass, as well as fireplaces and ornate bathroom tiling.
“The cost to renovate something like this is usually about double what it would be for razing the structure and building something new,” Levicoff says. “But it’s an important investment for us. Staying part of the community and honoring its history is paramount.” He says many historic renovations have been carried out by the hospital in the last decade. “We have rehabilitated hundred-year-old barns and turned them into doctor’s offices and even urgent care units.”
It’s not necessarily the real estate approach you would expect from a large hospital, but St. Luke’s leadership believes it has an important role to play in preserving the historic fabric of the region. “We take a lot of pride in not taking down historic-type buildings,” Levicoff says. “It’s kind of our trademark. The goodwill that you engender from the people in the community makes it worthwhile.”
The Anderson Campus
While the majority of his department’s work involves going into existing facilities and renovating or upgrading them, about 30 percent of the projects involve building new structures. There have been several major projects involving new construction in recent years, the largest of which is the Anderson Campus, which opened in 2011. The 500-acre site is the largest contiguous health care campus in Pennsylvania—and one of the largest in the US.
Located in an area of greenspace on the outskirts of Bethlehem, the site features extensive walking trails that connect to the Lehigh River, as well as a 10-acre organic farm that provides 100,000 pounds of produce for the cafeterias throughout the St. Luke’s hospital network. Levicoff attributes the forward-looking vision of the Anderson Campus to its namesake: Richard Anderson, long-time CEO of St. Luke’s and its board of trustees. “Unlike the CEOs of most healthcare networks who generally have tenure of four or five years, this gentleman has served our network for 30 years and counting. That cohesiveness is what has allowed us to grow from being a small community hospital to the point where we are now building out seventh campus.”
The Monroe Campus
The seventh hospital campus in the St. Luke’s system is currently rising from the ground in Monroe County, a rural area in the nearby Pocono Mountains. It will be the first hospital built in the Poconos in the last 100 years, but Levicoff says it’s going to look and feel as though it’s always been there. Like the Anderson campus, this facility will be surrounded by natural scenery, which in the Poconos means rugged glacial escarpments. “It’s basically built right into glacial till,” Levicoff says. “It’s pretty serene.”
The setting called for traditional building materials, but Levicoff says those are standard for St. Luke’s facilities, anyways. “Nothing we build is just glass and steel. We build things that look like they belong at a major university, and we build them for 30 percent less than traditional hospital costs.” Building structures that stand the test of time means they are built with brick, mortar, and cast stone—things that don’t go out of style.
“Glass and steel looks old after 20 years,” Levicoff says. “These buildings don’t.” Respecting history and building for longevity is part of what makes St. Luke’s fit so seamlessly within the communities they serve.
“There’s no wasted space, no grand entrances,” he adds emphatically. “We’re a hospital. We serve the community, and we want to be here forever.”