Health care has serious economic impact on communities

For many communities hospitals are one of the biggest employers and major contributors for local economies.

Geisinger Medical System, a regional health care provider based in Danville, provided a $6.1 billion positive impact on the local, regional and state economy in the last fiscal year, according to The Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania.

“As Geisinger continues to grow important programs and services to care for our patients, we are also supporting employment and enhancing overall quality of life in the communities we serve,” said Frank Trembulak, Geisinger Health System executive vice president and chief operating officer. “This latest HAP report highlights our role as a major employer and driver of the economy.”

The impact includes data from Geisinger-Shamokin Area Community Hospital, Geisinger-Bloomsburg Hospital, Geisinger-Community Medical Center in Scranton and affiliates that became part of Geisinger Health System last year.

In the previous fiscal year, Geisinger reportedly had a $5.5 billion positive impact on the economy. Trembulak pointed to a number of factors that reflects Geisinger’s contributions to the economy. Geisinger employs about 19,000 people, which in of itself, means salaries, wages and benefits spent in the region.

But those jobs and services also indirectly affect employment of other companies that do business with the health system, Trembulak said.

“All medical supplies and stuff we acquire are expenditures in the region,” he explained. “All have a potential effect on other employment.”

Trembulak said the good news is that the health system continues to grow. In recent years, much of that growth could be attributed to Geisinger’s affiliation with hospitals in the region including those in Bloomsburg and Shamokin.

“Some of this growth has to do with mergers of several hospitals. They are part of our organization,” he said.

Trembulak remains cautiously optimistic about growth in the future, however.

“We believe it will continue to go up as organization continues to grow,” he said.

What cannot be predicted is the effect health care reform and other factors may have on Geisinger.

“The downside that can’t be quantified is what happens with health care reform. There could be a general slowing and less growth in health care,” he said.

Hospital and Healthsystem Association spokesman Roger Baumgarten said his organization is looking at more immediate issues such as Medicaid expansion and how it may affect hospitals.

“We are counting on that expansion to help off-set some of the payment reductions,” he said.

In the meantime, the region’s ever-growing elderly population will continue to put demands on the health system. Overall, Pennsylvania hospitals and health systems support nearly 586,000 jobs and have a total economic impact of nearly $98 billion. In 2011, Pennsylvania’s 255 hospitals admitted more than 1.6 million patients, cared for nearly 39 million outpatients, evaluated six million patients in emergency departments and delivered over 124,000 babies.

Baumgarten said there’s little questions that hospitals are among the top employers for most counties in the state.

“We take seriously our responsibility to improve the quality of life for the people of central and northeast Pennsylvania,” said Trembulak. “A strong Geisinger is good news for everyone in the region.”