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Lehigh health college to operate on two tracks

Preliminary renderings show the interior look of the proposed 180,000-square-foot Health, Science and Technology building, which is expected to open in 2021 at Lehigh University in Bethlehem. Above is a lab. Below left is an open office area. RENDERINGS/SUBMITTED

The last time Lehigh University opened a new school was about 75 years ago. That will change in fall 2020 when the Bethlehem university accepts the first students to its College of Health.

A committee of Lehigh faculty was formed several years ago to work with external consultants and Lehigh Valley health care systems to determine the focus of the health program. The result is not a traditional medical or nursing school, but rather an institution that will focus on developing problem solvers for health care organizations. Classes will commence under two programs.

One will focus on innovations in value-based health care, the idea that providers should be rewarded for keeping people healthy rather than the sheer volume of services they deliver.

The second will specialize in social and biological determinants of health. Both Lehigh Valley Health Network and St. Luke’s University Health Network offered feedback on the program and plan to collaborate in the future.

“This shows that Lehigh University’s leaders recognize the significant role that health care plays in the economy not only in the Lehigh Valley, but across the United States,” said Richard A. Anderson, president and CEO of St. Luke’s. “Our common interests with and close proximity to Lehigh University position us as natural partners and St. Luke’s looks forward to a productive and fruitful collaboration.”

The innovation in value-based health care program will focus on improved health outcomes for both patients and the population as a whole. Students can expect to study and conduct research on ways to improve the effectiveness, accuracy and efficiency of value-based health care delivery systems.

The biological and social determinants of health program will look at how health and well-being are affected by factors ranging from molecular genetics to family and community and how they factor into preventable illnesses and deaths. Students will learn how to integrate the study of health determinants into social factors such as behaviors, economics, and family and community characteristics.

“I can think of no better time than now for Lehigh University to consider plans for a College of Health,” said Brian A. Nester, president and CEO of Lehigh Valley Health Network. “I am confident that Lehigh’s deep strengths in engineering, science, business and economics will provide a unique foundation for health-based curricula that will produce talented young professionals capable of solving some of the toughest problems in our industry.”

Both programs will also foster an interdisciplinary approach, as graduates are expected to be working with physicians, nurses and other clinical-based health care professionals throughout their careers.

“Health care is an enormous field,” said Patrick Farrell, provost and dean of academic affairs at Lehigh, which has about 7,000 graduate and undergraduate students. “We have to choose a handful of particular areas to focus and put our resources and energy into to where the benefits come from and where employers will look for talent.”



Creating a new college also means housing it. In July Lehigh was granted a zoning variance by the Bethlehem Zoning Hearing Board for the 180,000-square-foot Health, Science and Technology building, which will be the administrative home for the College of Health when it opens in 2021.

The building, to be located on the current Whitaker parking lot on Morton Street in Bethlehem, will also feature learning space, state-of-the-art laboratories, and collaborative and open lab space. It also will support interdisciplinary research in material science/nanotechnology and will be located close to the current microscopy suites at Whitaker and Sinclair labs.

Farrell said current students are already eager to apply, as degrees will be offered at the bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral level. The goal, he said, is to start with about 150 students and 10 faculty members and grow to 500 undergrad, 200 graduate and 50 faculty members. Lehigh is currently recruiting for a dean for the College of Health.

Curriculum is still being developed, but Farrell said students can expect to study biology, basic business, epidemiology and toxicology to ensure they have a firm grounding in health but will also know how to analyze large amounts of data.

“They will learn how to take information that’s floating around and put it into actionable results and interventions,” he said.

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