School of Nursing prepares for merger with Geisinger

LEWISTOWN – As the extended merger deadline approaches, Lewistown Hospital’s School of Nursing is preparing for new Geisinger Health System ownership, said Kay Hamilton, hospital president and CEO, Tuesday at the Lewistown Rotary Meeting.

Because the hospital’s name will officially change from Lewistown Hospital to Geisinger-Lewistown Hospital, the school must reapply for all certifications and federal funding, Hamilton said. However, nothing within the school’s program will be altered, she said.

“I’ve made sure we have a written agreement from Geisinger that they will support the School of Nursing,” Hamilton said. “The only thing you’ll see changed is the name of the school.”

Hamilton admitted that Geisinger’s agreement to keep the school open came as a surprise since Geisinger requires its nurses to have a baccalaureate degree. The Lewistown School of Nursing only offers a diploma program, she said.

Additionally, Geisinger closed its school of nursing a number of years ago and is instead working with nursing programs at various universities, Hamilton said, a change that might not sit well with Lewistown residents.

Though these things might be of concern, it all comes down to the final merger agreement signed by Lewistown Hospital and Geisinger Health System, Hamilton said. That signed agreement is what both entities must live by, she said.

“A school of nursing is a large cost to any organization,” Hamilton said. “For many years, our school of nursing was a deficit for us, but, I can tell you today, we are a little more than breaking even. I can also say the school is producing well-prepared and well-trained graduates.”

Over the past two years, Lewistown Hospital’s School of Nursing had an 87 percent and 90 percent graduation rate, respectively, Hamilton said. Those same graduating classes earned 100 percent pass rates when sitting for the National Board exam, she said.

“These types of results are unheard of in any nursing or clinical program,” Hamilton said. “We’ve had congratulation letters from the Board of Nursing and the National League for Nursing.”

Hamilton believes a new curriculum format, developed after the school’s second year, is responsible for the increase in performance. Each course now includes a test component students must pass to move onto the next subject or course level, she said.

“These tests have been devised independently by the school of nursing to gauge exactly what has been learned,” Hamilton said. “In the end, the student that actually graduates from the program is extremely well prepared to sit the National Boards and that’s what we’re after.”

Nurses who graduate from Lewistown Hospital also find a job within an average of six month, Hamilton said, effectively solving the nurse shortage which inspired the School of Nursing in the first place.

“I can remember the moment I thought we needed a school of nursing,” Hamilton said. “We didn’t have enough nursing staff and we had these per diem nurses, day by day nurses, coming in. We were spending $1.2 million at the time on these nurses. I thought, well, we’re a hospital, we need to open a school of nursing.”

Now, with each graduating class, the hospital hires a portion for its needs and the remaining students are hired by local nursing homes and healthcare providers, Hamilton said.

“It’s a true success story, not just for the people who have graduated from it and the people who teach in it, but for the community as well,” Hamilton said. “We’re turning out grads that are taking care of your relatives, or any of us on any given day, and doing it well.”

For more information on Lewistown Hospital’s School of Nursing, visit and click on the School of Nursing link.