Pike County is the only county, of 67 counties in the state, with neither an urgent care center nor hospital, said Pike County Commissioner Ron Schmalzle, speaking at the State of the County dinner last week at Best Western Hunt’s Landing Hotel. A plan to change that, now in motion, would bring two urgent care centers to the area, beginning with one at the Weis shopping center in Dingmans Ferry and then another near Routes 507 and 6, by Lake Wallenpaupack.
That will likely happen in 2024, according to Mark Schiffer, Senior Vice President of Strategic Alliances for Northwell Health, based in Manhattan. He also spoke at the event, describing Northwell as “the largest employer in the state,” with 81,000 employees, 21 hospitals, 850 ambulatory care sites and a large graduate medical education program.
“We solicited other medical providers, but Northwell came to us with a study,” said Pike County Commissioner Chair Matt Osterberg.
Discussions between the commissioners and Northwell began early in 2020 after other providers whom county officials approached had shown no interest in Pike, with its low density population. Northwell was alerted to the need in Pike County when one of their administrators, vacationing in Pike, had a medical emergency and bumped up against the lack of urgent care facilities.
“They said, ‘We want to help you,’” Osterberg said.
Meanwhile, progress has been made with ambulance service, reducing half hour waits to seven minutes, aided by municipal cooperation, grants and training support. But hospitals are 35 minutes from some parts of the county, Osterberg said. He mentioned the possibility of a 10-20 bed hospital as in Dixon City.
“We need to be prepared. The population will explode,” he said.
However, he and others noted constraints on population “explosion.”
“We need housing, diverse employment opportunities and the infrastructure to handle it, especially sewers. We have a comprehensive plan to help municipal officials, but that’s their job,” he said, referring to adding sewers.
Pike County population trends and needs
County population trends were outlined by Mike Sullivan, Executive Director at Pike County Economic Development Authority. After high population growth from 1970 to 2010, the last decade had meager growth and declines from 2010 to 2016, he said. But county population grew at the fifth highest rate in the state from 2020 to 2021, with 76% of the influx from New Jersey and New York.
However, with 10,000 jobs in Pike County, only half are held by Pike County residents, while 2200 Pike residents, 10% of the Pike labor force, work in Orange County, where wages are higher, averaging $3000 per week, Sullivan said. In Pike, the prevailing wage is $16 per hour.
“To meet needs, it should be $18.50,” he said.
Consequently, many workers come from Port Jervis or Scranton, as housing is too expensive at current wages in Pike, where median income is $67,000. But while 79% of residents have earnings, 43% get Social Security; 32% have retirement income and 2.8% depend on public assistance. Housing for lower income workers, seniors and people with disabilities is scarce, but plans are afoot for the beginnings of such housing in the area of Route 739 and Log Tavern Rd. in Dingman Township, Osterberg said.
We need housing, diverse employment opportunities and the infrastructure to handle it, especially sewers. - Pike County Commissioner Chair Matt Osterberg