Breaking Ground: Construction of Primary Health Network officially begins

PUNXSUTAWNEY โ€” The dirt was flying when ground was broken for the new Primary Health Network (PHN) medical facility that is being constructed on Prushnok Drive in the east end of Punxsutawney.

The weather was cold, but dry, and the sun was out for the ceremonial turning of earth at the seven-acre location.

Jack Laeng, CEO of PHN, welcomed the guests and dignitaries to the festivities, which were held on the construction site located behind the old Career Link building that is also owned by PHN.

"I want to thank Rep. Glenn "GT" Thompson, congressman to the Pennsylvania Fifth District, who is a proponent and advocate of healthcare in general," Laeng said, adding that he also wanted to thank Mark Adams who was representing state Sen. Joe Scarnati, 25th District, and Chad Horner, representing state Rep. Sam Smith of the 66th District, for their support.

He said Scarnati and Smith helped secure a $2 million line item to help with the construction of the building.

Laeng thanked the Punxsutawney Area Chamber of Commerce for helping to plan the event.

He went on to thank Bridget Wiedeman, from the Reinvestment Fund, which helped to finance most of the project. Wiedeman said the financing package included $11.5 million in new market tax credits.

"Chase Bank was the investor, and the purchase of the tax credits provided about $3 million in equity for the project," she said.

Wiedeman added that the Green Energy Loan Fund was used to put $2 million of energy efficient improvements provided a lower interest

She said they also helped to bridge the state grants.

"All of these organizations and government officials helped to make this project possible in Punxsy,"

Laeng said, "Next year at this time, we'll be inside cutting the ribbon for this new facility.โ€

He also thanked Dan Blough, CEO of Punxsutawney Area Hospital, for inviting PHN to Punxsy to help with the delivery of healthcare.

"The impetus for this project to Dr. Joe Kernich and Dr. Jay Elder of PHN," Laeng said, adding that this is extension of what they've always done with Punxsutawney Medical Associates.

"We appreciate what they've accomplished over the last two years," he said. "I want to thank Don Perry, president of PHN Charitable, who has been to every groundbreaking over the last four years.โ€

Following the groundbreaking, a reception was held in the former Career Link building, which is owned now by PHN.

Thompson congratulated everyone who worked together to accomplish the project.

"We do spend time discussing healthcare in Washington, as you might have noticed," Thompson said. "I spent 30 years working in rural healthcare; any healthcare initiative, we make sure we are providing affordable care, which should be accessible, and the patient should be in the driver seat when it comes to decision making."

Thompson said one of the most logical ways to do so is to strengthen family-qualified health centers.

"These are great resources in our community, and the best part, to me, is how well they partner in our rural communities," he said.

"That is what we see with this groundbreaking here in Punxsy, and all of the key individuals and organizations and the hospital have all come together to make that happen," Thompson said.

Laeng said in an interview with The Spirit that he expected the new health center in Punxsy to be open in April of 2014.

He said the building will be three floors and will be 45,000 square feet.

"We have the first two floors as to what they will be, and the third floor at this time is empty," Laeng said, adding that they are entertaining social agencies and any non-profit groups that may want to come in.

"Then, we'll design the third floor according to their needs," he said. "Besides Primary Health Network (which is currently located in the Medical Arts Building at Punxsutawney Area Hospital), the hospital is hoping to move some programs off campus to the new building," Laeng said.

He said PHN is looking to combine its behavioral health with the hospitals.

"So we have one stronger mental health component in the community," Laeng said.

He said the Medicine Shoppe Pharmacy, which is currently located in downtown, will be moving to the new health center.

Laeng said there will be an outpatient laboratory which will do the draws and some other minor testing, then the blood work will be picked up and sent to the hospital for processing.

"We have enough land to actually construct another building behind us if we want to," he added.

Laeng said they are relocating about 35 people to the new building, and they will be adding another 70 people that will work at the facility.