The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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November 25, 2013

Conemaugh ‘exploring options’

Health system inquires about possible affiliations

JOHNSTOWN — Conemaugh Health System is looking for friends.

The Johnstown-based hospital organization has issued a request for proposals from other hospitals and networks interested an affiliation here.

Spokeswoman Amy Bradley confirmed the development, saying, “We are just exploring our options.”

Bradley would not discuss the document, its contents or the method of distribution.

Unlike the requests for proposals issued by municipal governments and agencies for major projects and professional services, the hospital’s RFP is a private, confidential document and would include information about the health system’s business structure.

Government RFPs are published in newspapers and trade journals. A Johnstown attorney said private proposals similar to Conemaugh’s are usually sent directly to the potential bidders.

Bradley downplayed the significance of the request, noting that leaders have been open for at least a year in saying Conemaugh is exploring strategic partnerships.

It is not clear if Conemaugh is looking to become part of a larger organization or if it is looking to take in smaller independents and expand its own network. Meyersdale Medical Center in Somerset County and Miners Medical Center in Hastings, along with Memorial Medical Center in Johnstown, comprise the Conemaugh’s hospital network. Windber Medical Center was formerly affiliated with Conemaugh.

Conemaugh’s request for proposals opens its options to several organizations. The news comes on the heels of what insiders said were exclusive negotiations with Highmark that ended earlier this fall without a deal.

The RFP will, no doubt, escalate rumors about takeovers and mergers involving Conemaugh that have been swirling for months. But the rumors are not limited to Conemaugh and its three hospitals. Nearly every independent hospital in the region has been the subject of merger rumors.

Although leaders insisted it was not the first step toward a merger, Conemaugh and Somerset Hospital last month announced an agreement to develop a “collaborative relationship.”

In May, Windber Medical Center announced it is exploring options for a “strategic relationship.”

“While our hopes are to remain as independent as possible, we believe that we can be stronger with some type of partnership,” Windber leaders said in a letter to employees. “It is unknown what that will look like as we are early in the process, but we wanted to let you know that it is actively being considered.”

Windber President Barbara Cliff said she believes all Pennsylvania hospitals are talking to others.

Volatility of the western Pennsylvania health care sector has been heightened since the parent company of Highmark Blue Cross/Blue Shield announced plans last year to acquire West Penn Allegheny Health System. The takeover was sealed in March over objections by UPMC Health System.

Highmark has also acquired controlling interest in Jefferson Regional Medical Center in suburban Pittsburgh and St. Vincent Health System in Erie.

UPMC took over Altoona Regional Health System last summer, expanding a network of hospitals that includes UPMC Hamot in Erie, UPMC Northwest in Venango County, UPMC Horizon in Mercer County and UPMC Bedford Memorial in Everett.

Randy Griffith covers health care for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/photogriffer57.

 

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