LEWISTOWN - Lewistown Hospital is merging with Geisinger Health System, Kay Hamilton, hospital president and CEO, announced Tuesday morning.
Hamilton presented a non-binding letter of intent to the Board of Directors during the December meeting on Monday, confirming Geisinger's agreement to merge with Lewistown Hospital. While specifics of the merger are still in the planning process, the merger with Geisinger is definite, Hamilton said.
"We chose Geisinger because they are a part of our community," Hamilton said. "They have been here since the 80s, they are part of our hospital, we know them and they take care of our patients. They are also ... the largest rural health care provider in the nation."
Sentinel photo by BRADLEY KREITZER
Lewistown Hospital announced Tuesday a merger with Geisinger Health System.
The non-binding portion of the letter of intent refers to agreements within the merger, rather than to the merging entities themselves, said Frank Trembulak, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Geisinger Health System. It's a common first step in the merger process, he added.
"A letter of intent is a conceptual document that lays out a conceptual frame work of what the parties have generally agreed to," Trembulak said. "The next document, which is a definitive agreement, is a formal contract between the parties which says, in more detail, how to implement this integration process."
At this time, Geisinger has agreed to the main goals Hamilton has discussed with the community in the past: keeping the hospital open, keeping the school of nursing open, providing employee and physician security, accepting popular insurance and developing capital gain.
"When we started talking about all of this months ago, we talked about the goals most important to the hospital and community," Hamilton said. "It's all about growth, it's not about losing jobs or services. We're doing this to grow and we will grow."
Geisinger has also agreed to accept insurance plans that are already accepted at Lewistown Hospital and local clinics, like Medicare Advantage, and continue providing service to the Amish communities, Hamilton said.
The planning process, leading to the definitive agreement, has a legal deadline of 90 days, but will most likely be extended due to the holiday season, Trembulak said. The process will include a time of due diligence, which includes legal aspects, but also the creation of clinical, facility and information technology plans to update and better the hospital, he said.
Once the definitive plan is drafted, it will be submitted to the hospital Board of Directors for vote, Hamilton said. The hospital's Community Corporate Members will also have a vote in regard to the change in ownership of the organization, she added.
Though Trembulak acknowledges that there has been opposition from some people in the community and some local physicians about a merger with Geisinger, many of the concerns are unfounded and misinformed, he said.
"Independent medical staff are concerned that, if the hospital relates to Geisinger, we will burst in and displace them," Trembulak said. "That is not the case. We really want to work with and partner with the community physicians to help them grow their own practices in support of the hospital."
Another concern, Trembulak said, is that Geisinger is planning to pull business away from the hospital. However, that doesn't make sense after Geisinger has invested time and money in the hospital. That would be counterintuitive, he added.
"We are committed to the community and the continued success of the hospital," Trembulak said. "I've not heard any concern that I would view as a legitimate problem. Everything we have heard has been clearly addressed."
Geisinger has already identified two projects that need immediate attention: redesigning and relocating the imaging department and constructing a new emergency department. These projects are expected to cost a minimum of $36 million, Trembulak said.
"The hospital had already begun plans on these improvements," Trembulak said. "We looked at those and said we agree. We added some contingency for equipment and unanticipated needs."
To keep the hospital community informed, Lewistown Hospital and Geisinger has begun holding medical staff meetings and will continue reaching out to all staff, physicians and board members, Hamilton said. They are also planning to hold community meetings in the near future, she added.
Geisinger President and CEO, Glenn Steele Jr., will be present for questions and discussion at staff meetings as well as a luncheon with community business leaders on Dec. 11.
"It's important for the community to remember why we are here in the first place," Hamilton said. "The hospital is at risk and we can't allow that. It's a chief economic engine and health care provider for this whole community. For these reasons, over two years ago, we embarked on this path."
The hospital will add a link to its website for the community and hospital employees to anonymously submit any questions, which Hamilton will personally answer. All questions and answers will then be posted to the website at www.lewistownhospital.org.
Hamilton also encourages community members and hospital employees to continue calling her with any questions. Appointments can be made by calling the Communications Department at 242-7365.