The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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March 14, 2014

Network expanding from Southern roots

JOHNSTOWN — Leaders of Conemaugh Health System and Duke LifePoint Healthcare announced Friday that the local medical institution would be acquired by the southern-based for-profit outfit.

Conemaugh’s acquisition marks the ever-expanding hospital network’s first foray in Pennsylvania.

Duke LifePoint Hospitals operates 61 hospital campuses in 20 states and has more than 29,000 employees. It is a joint venture finalized about three years ago between Duke University and Brentwood, Tenn.-based for-profit LifePoint Hospitals.

From the Duke LifePoint official website:

“Duke LifePoint Healthcare pursues acquisitions and shared ownership and governance of community hospitals that are looking to become part of a stable, outcomes-focused, well-funded system. Duke offers Duke LifePoint Healthcare’s hospitals clinical and quality guidance, as well as access to highly specialized medical services to help meet their communities’ needs. LifePoint provides a range of management, financial and operational resources, including access to capital for ongoing investments in new technology and facility renovations.”

CNN Money ranked LifePoint Hospitals seventh among medical facilities – its highest-ranked attribute was quality of management.

Revenues for LifePoint Hospitals hit $3.7 billion by the end of 2013, an 8.4 percent increase from 2012, according to the company’s year-end earnings release. The company estimates that number will reach $4 billion this year, with a forecasted earning per diluted share of $2.38 to $2.78.

The company’s ownership share is 97 percent LifePoint and only 3 percent Duke. Since joining in 2011, six hospitals have come under the Duke LifePoint wing.

Dr. William Fulkerson, executive vice president of Duke University Health System, said the merger happened naturally after regular collaboration. Both sides began to recognize their common mission, vision and commitments.

“We felt that Duke and LifePoint together was a marriage with capabilities that were unique in the marketplace,” he told The Tribune-Democrat following the Friday morning press conference. “With Duke, we have assets and resources around basic safety, around quality and around clinical program development, and building and expansion.

“And with LifePoint, we have financial strength and operational capability.”

LifePoint Hospitals CEO William Carpenter said it’s about partnerships that strengthen both entities.

“In each case where Duke LifePoint has gone beyond the North Carolina area, it has been to partner with a community-based hospital that has advanced clinical services,” he said. “A system like Conemaugh, with all the advanced clinical services that you provide today, now has access to the resources of a top-10 academic medical center in Duke University and advanced clinical support that they bring to the table.”

One of the company’s most recent mergers, with Wilson Medical Center in Wilson, N.C., which was finalized March 1, saw some kickback from the community. Critics were concerned with a shifting emphasis on profit and potential loss of local control – or an eventual total takeover left open by an 80/20 ownership split in favor of Duke LifePoint.

“I don’t want it to be sold on the New York Stock Exchange for profit,” Max Fitz-Gerald told The Wilson-Times in January, when merger opposition was beginning to get louder. “I want it to remain a community hospital that is responsible to the people of this community, not some entity in some other part of the world.”

The Conemaugh deal, however, is still in its infancy stages, according to Conemaugh CEO Scott Becker. Much of it awaits deliberation on both sides and regulatory approval.

Also, members of the new Wilson Medical board were equally appointed by the community and the joint venture. Carpenter said the current Conemaugh board members will retain their seats. He explained why he sees no need to mix things up in Johnstown.

“Here, your board is already almost 50/50 physicians and community leaders,” he said. “Sometimes – not here – we go into a community and physician representation is not as heavy on the board.

“We think 50/50 is perfect.”

Health care reporter Randy Griffith contributed to this report. Justin Dennis is a multimedia reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at

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