The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA


March 18, 2014

Patient care must be priority | Conemaugh needs to be steadfast in its focus

JOHNSTOWN — The area was abuzz over Friday’s blockbuster announcement that Conemaugh Health System and Duke LifePoint Healthcare have stitched together a working agreement.

Conemaugh is the northern most acquisition of the southern-based Duke LifePoint, which was born in 1999 and operates 64 hospitals in 21 states.

Dr. William Carney, Conemaugh’s acting chief medical officer, said the local health care system has been searching for a partner for quite some time. Conemaugh officials said they spent a lot of time researching Duke LifePoint, touring communities within its network, exploring the culture and educational ideals and examining its visions for patient care and academics.

“This relationship with Duke and Duke LifePoint stood head and shoulders above everything,” he told our Justin Dennis for Saturday’s editions. “I have no worries that we made the proper decision.”

To allay fears that Duke LifePoint would only use Conemaugh Health System to boost its bottom line and not invest in its newest acquisition, Conemaugh CEO Scott Becker said Duke LifePoint has committed to spending

$500 million in capital projects in the next decade. The projects include two new outpatient homes in Richland Township and Ebensburg along with boosting new information technology infrastructure.

“This is going to put people back to work,” Becker said. “This is the shot in the arm our community needs.”

That is fantastic news for the 4,500 employees and 350 physicians of Memorial, Miners and Meyersdale medical centers who were more or less guaranteed employment once the deal is finalized later this year. They will join a growing network of 29,000 em-ployees of the Duke LifePoint system.

One aspect of the acquisition piqued the interest of county and city leaders and Greater Johnstown School District administrators. Duke LifePoint, unlike Conemaugh, is a for-profit corporation. Last year, Conemaugh, in lieu of taxes, contributed $500,000 that was divided among the county, city and school district. Had Conemaugh actually paid real estate taxes on its 119 properties, the figure would have approached $5.7 million, said Thomas Leiden, county solicitor. But there are a lot of unknowns about the deal.

“Nobody knows, until they come out with a contract and we can sit down and talk,” Leiden told reporter Kathy Mellott.

Added President Commissioner Douglas Lengenfelder: “They said that they are going to create a partnership. That doesn’t mean they can’t bring someone in and make it nonprofit. There is absolutely nothing we can sink our teeth into yet.”

Although there are a lot of details to iron out before an agreement is signed, it is our hope that Conemaugh is able to keep its autonomy and do what is best for the communities it serves. We also hope that the new partnership continues Conemaugh’s focus on patients, and not profits. As Conemaugh’s motto states: Every patient. Every time.

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