BURNHAM - Members of the Rotary Club of Lewistown welcomed Kay Hamilton, president and CEO of Lewistown Hospital, to speak on the potential hospital merger Tuesday, during the group's weekly meeting.
Like previous public meetings, Rotary attendees asked questions regarding the hospital's future, however, they also took time to give compliments to hospital management and staff.
"Two weeks ago I rushed my mother to the ER and the staff was incredibly professional," said Rotary Member D'Anne Mowery. "Larger hospitals usually have a team of doctors, but Lewistown Hospital only has one on at a time. Even so, the doctor and staff performed wonderfully."
Mowery said while she was at the hospital, a stroke patient was wheeled into the ER. Though Lewistown didn't have a stroke specialist on-hand, one from Geisinger performed an on-line video consultation and the patient was taken care of immediately, Mowery said.
"It's impressive to see Lewistown Hospital closing the gap and moving forward in technology and medical services," Mowery said. "It's good to know if my mother needed a specialist, there would be someone there for her. I have nothing but praise."
Larry Schardt, another Rotary member, commented on Hamilton's efforts to communicate with the Lewistown community and area residents. Though Hamilton is not able to give concrete information regarding the possible merger, it means a lot that she is reaching out to the community, he said.
"There are so many rumors going around, especially regarding the possible loss of jobs if there is a merger," Schardt said. "I'd just like to thank (Hamilton) for doing what she can to get the correction information out there."
As the meeting continued, Rotary members posed a number of questions:
Q: How have you been keeping the hospital employees and medical staff up-to-date?
Hamilton: I, and senior management, have spent an inordinate amount of time talking to the employees because that's crucial. I send weekly emails, hold open forums and stop in the hall for any questions so they know exactly what to expect next. I give them my assurance every time I see them: Nothing is going to happen until everything is settled and we know the right thing to do. Hospital staff will be the first to know when any decision is made.
Q: Where are these rumors coming from?
Hamilton: Communication is incredibly difficult, especially when you have over 1,000 employees and a large service area. However, communication is a two-way street. If you aren't ready to listen, I can't really tell you anything. Some of the rumors in the community, and in the hospital, are based off fear and denial because change is hard. I urge people to wait for the facts, rather than spread rumors they aren't sure of.
Q: How is the hospital planning to improve and expand services with a merger?
Hamilton: We already have the Telestroke Program, which provides a real-time link between Geisinger's stroke-trained neurologists and Lewistown's Emergency Department. We also have EICU, another electronic system, that enables physicians from remote sites to view your loved one in an intensive care bed and advise for the best treatment. Programs like these improve care, decrease mortality, improve quality and keep patients local. We are looking to continue on this path at a greater scale through a partnership.
Q: Is there a time frame for when the merger decision will be made?
Hamilton: Unfortunately, no. Timing is totally subjective to the wishes of the board. We are hopeful that the whole process will be completed by the spring, but it's a lengthy process. Once the board makes a decision, negotiation needs to take place and then the attorney general has to analyze any paperwork. It could be a long time, but we are hopeful.
Q: What will happen to your position if a merger takes place?
Hamilton: If this was the 1980s, I would probably be gone. But companies and hospitals have learned a lot from what they did in the past. Now, they tend to leave senior management in place, but I can't say for sure. A wise organization recognizes that disrupting senior management causes a loss of wisdom overnight and alienates the community.
As the meeting came to a close, Hamilton invited attendees and the public to call her directly with any questions regarding the merger or the hospital's future.
"Please feel free to call anytime," Hamilton said. "I get a number of phone calls from citizens who want to talk about the situation. If someone has a specific worry, I can address it and tell them what the plan is. I'd much rather have people call than have rumors circulate."
To schedule a phone appointment with Hamilton, contact the Communications Department at 242-7365.