‘This is my home’: From healthcare to political office in Lebanon County

Mike Kuhns recently filled the position of the late County Commissioner Bill Ames in Lebanon County, who passed away in late 2021.  JEFF FALK/OnthePULSE

Mike Kuhn made the unexpected transition from working in healthcare to becoming one of Lebanon County’s highest officers in the middle of a political term. 

For the 66-year-old, the transition is simply more public service taking on a different form, Kuhns said. 

On Dec. 28, 2021, long-time County Commissioner Bill Ames passed quite suddenly. Just months prior, Kuhn had decided not to run for another term as a Lebanon school board member, a position that he had held for the past 28 years.

Kuhn is about three months into the abbreviated term as Lebanon’s latest and third county commissioner. While there’s a lot to digest and the learning curve has been steep, Kuhn has a wealth of experience and wisdom from which to draw, and he said he is approaching his new position as an exciting challenge and an unexpected opportunity for growth.

 “The timing occurred rather abruptly, due to the passing of Mr. Ames,” said Kuhn. “The opportunity presented itself. But the concept of being a county commissioner wasn’t out of the blue for me. I couldn’t imagine a day where I wouldn’t work, and the hospital (Wellspan Good Samaritan) has always allowed me a certain degree of flexibility. The position of county commissioner offered a similar option, to have a role that’s not a nine-to-five job. It’s strange hours sometimes, but that’s OK.”

Kuhn, who possesses a strong, local philanthropic background, said he wasn’t looking for the next thing, before fate stepped in.

  “This may be the best job I’ve ever had, even though I’ve loved working at Wellspan Good Samaritan Hospital,” said Kuhn, who’s been the local hospital’s director of development since 1985. “I’m learning a lot, but I had some good insight on what the job entails. It is a new challenge for me, but it’s a challenge I love because I grew up here. When I was a young person, I didn’t realize the great opportunities afforded me. It’s just a great chance for me to give back.”

 After Ames’ passing, Kuhn was one of 22 local residents who applied to complete the remainder of his elected term. From that list, six of the candidates were interviewed by Lebanon County’s four court of common pleas judges and Kuhn was the judges’ unanimous selection.

 On Tuesday, February 22nd, 2022, Kuhn was sworn in by President Judge John Tylwalk as Lebanon’s next county commissioner, alongside fellow Republican Bob Phillips and Democrat JoEllen Litz.

 “He impressed us with his dedication to the community,” said Tylwalk. “Just his long tenure on the Lebanon school board and his dedication to others. His selflessness. He’s someone who’s concerned about other people. We were looking for someone who could work with Commissioner Litz and Commissioner Phillips. We were also looking for someone who could learn on the go.

 “After we did the interviews, we said, ‘Let’s do our top three,’ ” added Tylwalk. “But it never got to that point. During the interviews, one of the candidates said, ‘If it can’t be me, it should be Mike Kuhn.’ That does say something.”

 In addition to his positions with Wellspan Good Samaritan Hospital and the Lebanon School District, Kuhn has been active in the Lebanon community through youth sports, his church and numerous charitable boards and organizations. While he hails from a family of givers, Kuhn’s journey has also been influenced by people like former County Commissioner Bill Carpenter, former Good Samaritan Hospital CEO David Broderick and current commissioner Phillips.

 “That piece just feels very natural to me,” said Kuhn of the giving-back element. “There are people who have had a tremendous influence on me. I think you get so much from giving back. What you get in return is priceless. First and foremost, the role of a county commissioner is to be accessible and be a good listener. We have to be good sounding boards and be in touch with the community.”

 Often, county commissioners play a very public role in the community, as they oversee such important aspects of local government as personnel, the budget and the local court system. It’s a difficult, time-consuming position which can be made easier and more manageable by conscientious administrators and department heads.

 “I’ve gained experience in many of my former roles,” said Kuhn. “Government can be very complex. I see this as a new platform for some of the things I’ve done in the past. As a school board member, what I learned is that the most important hire is the superintendent. As a county commissioner, you hire a good county administrator and good department heads, and you let them do their jobs. Our role is oversight and fiduciary oversight. We want to provide good value for our taxpayers.”

 An eclectic combination of city and country, Lebanon County offers something for practically everyone and overall is recognized as a pretty good place to live. But that doesn’t mean that the locale doesn’t face its own unique set of challenges or that it can’t be improved.

 “We have a wonderful community,” said Kuhn. “I’m honored to be a county commissioner and a Lebanon County Commissioner. We are not Dauphin County. We are not Lancaster County. We are not Philadelphia. Relatively speaking, Lebanon County is a nice place to live, but we have our challenges. They’re huge challenges, but they’re not unique. It’s not going to be easy. It’s going to require all of us working together.”

 An outgoing person, Kuhn has gained a reputation for his ability to get things accomplished throughout his career. More than simply making Lebanon County a better place to live, Kuhn said he wants to see his neighbors succeed and flourish.

 “With a lot of different moving parts, it’s not an easy job and I think it ends up being a lot more time than people realize,” said Tylwalk. “With his history, Mike has proven that he’s hard working. He doesn’t shy away from hard decisions. It’s a position you need to grow into a little bit, and I think Mike will. And I think he’ll do a fantastic job.”

Kuhn said he will be phased out of his position at Wellspan Good Samaritan and that the hospital has already begun an extensive search for his predecessor as director of development, a position he has held over the past 37 years.

 Kuhn’s self-proclaimed ‘test run’ as a Lebanon County Commissioner ends in January of 2024. He said that following some subsequent soul searching, he would entertain the idea of seeking election to the post.


Jeff Falk

Jeff Falk is a seasoned writer and journalist based in Lebanon, PA.