LEWISTOWN - Local business leaders were addressed by Glenn Steele Jr., Geisinger president and CEO, and Kay Hamilton, Lewistown Hospital president and CEO, during a Tuesday meeting to answer community questions regarding the merger process.
The choice to merge was not made because Lewistown Hospital is doing poorly, Steele said, but rather the hospital is looking to grow in ways the current budget cannot finance. With the help of Geisinger, Lewistown Hospital can thrive in a time of health care uncertainty, he said.
"The journey we are on is not because there's a burning platform here," Steele said. "If you look at the operations, despite the economy and the size of the hospital, the hospital management, doctors and staff have done a magnificent job keeping the operations in good shape."
The real issue, Steele said, is two-fold: the balance sheet isn't big enough to handle the investments needed in the coming years and it's anticipated that insurance reimbursements will go down dramatically over the next five to 10 years.
"The question then becomes, 'how do you remain viable?'" Steele asked. "This question has led the hospital board and Kay to ask some fundamental questions. We are predicating this whole process on detailing, as best we can, program building."
However, a capital margin is needed to achieve improvements in hospital programs, therefore Geisinger Health System is referring to itself as a non-investor-owned entity rather than a not-for-profit, Steele said.
"I am of the opinion, that to build the programs we want to build, we need a margin," Steele said. "No one is going to give us money just because we have a good idea. We have to make a profit, but the difference ... is that we have an obligation, and proof, of putting every cent we make back into our people, our programs and our facilities."
The key, though, to completing this merger and continuing into the future successfully, is the support of the community, Steele said. The future of the hospital depends on the community sharing what they think is done right and done wrong. The hospital will continue striving for an open relationship with the Lewistown residents, he said.
The meeting was then opened to questions:
Q: What will happen with the school of nursing?
Geisinger: The future is secure for the school of nursing. The only caveat I have there is that nursing itself, has to agree that the degrees offered are still legitimate degrees. We think it's a great seed for the hospital and the rest of the system.
Lewistown Hospital: The Board of Nursing is currently debating what the entry level requirements should be for nursing in this state. If the board determines that a bachelor's degree is needed, then that would end the program at the nursing school.
Q: What happens to the Mifflin County Hospital Authority bonds that are outstanding?
Lewistown Hospital: As part of the deal, Geisinger assumes all Lewistown Hospital liability and debt. Depending on the future financial plans, Geisinger can prepay them or leave them for now.
Q: Why did Geisinger agree to keep Lewistown Hospital an acute care facility for only eight years?
Geisinger: Once we start this process, and we start to invest, we don't intend to change from an acute care hospital. The issues are the challenges of health care. We have no idea, six or eight years down the road, where the health reports are going to go. In the future we don't even know how the state will define an acute care hospital. It's really just a number to put on a document, but this journey is going to continue much longer than eight years.
Q: How do you plan to recruit doctors to Lewistown Hospital?
Geisinger: Critical mass is important whether its critical mass of programs or critical mass of colleagues. If we are looking at the western region as a holistic area, then we are looking to significantly increase commitments here in Lewistown. I think it will be easier because the denominator will be bigger. I also think the transportation corridor is key. Getting up here from Harrisburg is really easy. If we were able to have that transportation corridor extraordinarily efficient through here to State College, I think it would be amazing. We plan to work on that. Geisinger recruits roughly 140 doctors a year.
The meeting was held as part of a larger communication plan created to keep the community informed as the definitive agreement, or final contract, is developed, Hamilton said. Similar meetings and outreach will continue as the merger moves forward, she added.