WELLSBORO - "To do what is in the best interest of the community," is what Laurel Health System President and CEO Ronald J. Butler hopes will come of a planned "affiliation" with Susquehanna Health.
"Our primary purpose is to expand services locally so patients will not need to travel long distances to get them," Butler said.
The two entities on Thursday signed an agreement to create a regional integrated health system covering northcentral Pennsylvania.
The definitive agreement was approved by the Laurel Health System and Susquehanna Health boards following eight months of evaluation.
Under the agreement, Laurel Health - including Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hospital, The Green Home, North Penn Comprehensive Health Services and their related organizations - will partner with Williamsport Regional Medical Center, Divine Providence Hospital, Muncy Valley Hospital and Susquehanna Health Medical Group, all under the umbrella of Susquehanna Health.
The agreement calls for the appointment of four Laurel Health representatives to the Susquehanna Health Board and the continuation of the existing Laurel Health, Soldiers and Sailors, Green Home and North Penn boards.
Susquehanna Health will commit up to $9 million to expand clinical services, including a cancer program in Wellsboro, subject to need and feasibility.
Butler said the system will result in increased access to top medical specialists, expansion of services in local communities and the establishment of a community health foundation.
Pending review by the state attorney general, the partnership should be finalized July 1, Butler said, which will allow leaders to begin planning how services will expand in Tioga County.
"This affiliation will offer tremendous benefits to our local communities. We're very pleased that it is coming to fruition," said Laurel Health System Board Chairman J. Dennis Murray. "Partnering with Susquehanna Health - a leading health care provider in this region with advanced, nationally recognized medical services - will bring resources and support to recruit physicians, expand health services and bring the quality of health care to an even higher level right here in Tioga County. Residents will be able to access specialty services that are currently not available close to home."
Butler said the first thing he hopes to see become available to county residents is a cancer treatment center, including physicians, specialists and a center where local patients can go without having to travel.
"It is extremely difficult for cancer patients to get treatment when they have to travel, especially for seniors," he said. "Susquehanna is committed to helping us expand these services."
Butler said he thinks now is the best time to do the merger, because "we are stronger, financially, than we have ever been."
He also sees it adding new jobs to the area, and no job cuts are planned.
"Part of the plan is to develop the facilities, either in the hospital or somewhere else in the community. We are looking at different options," Butler said.
Community health improvement will be another area of focus.
"One of the most significant, positive benefits of this partnership will be the creation of The Laurel Health Foundation, a $21 million resource for long-term financial support of healthcare in Tioga County," Butler said. "In addition, we will be working cooperatively with other resources in the community to improve the health status of the residents of Tioga County."
The partnership of the two not-for-profit health systems will continue to provide needed charity care in fulfillment of their shared mission.
While the benefits for Tioga County patients will be more noticeable, the benefits to Lycoming County patients will not go unnoticed, said Tracie Witter, communications director for Susquehanna Health.
"As our health care organization grows, we will experience increased efficiencies and volumes. As a result of both of these factors, all hospitals will be able to attract more physician specialists to the areas in which we are located and thereby provide more services to patients," she said.
Once the formal affiliation is approved, Witter added, work groups will be formed immediately to begin planning for physician recruitment, feasibility analysis for the cancer center and other key partnership priorities.
In a press release Wednesday, Susquehanna Health Board Chairman Ronald V. DeFeo said, "We are honored that the leaders of Laurel Health System have selected us as their partner to continue their proud tradition of caring for the health needs of Tioga County. Our shared values, complementary mission and common commitment to quality care will make this a great fit that will benefit all of the communities served by both health systems, as well as our dedicated physicians and employees."
Susquehanna Health President and CEO Steven P. Johnson noted joining together into a larger system enhances the quality of care while improving efficiency on a wider scale.
"Together, the partnership will create an expanded delivery system that benefits the entire Lycoming-Tioga region," Johnson said. "This regional system will enhance coordination of care to deliver better outcomes for our patients throughout northcentral Pennsylvania."