WELLSBORO - The integration of Laurel Health System and its affiliates into Susquehanna Health received regulatory approval Sept. 1.
The consolidation is more of a "partnership" and an "affliliation" than a consolidation, said Steven P. Johnson, president and CEO of Susquehanna Health. Patients of both systems can expect better and more services as a result.
Laurel Health - which includes Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hospital, the Green Home and other services - joined with Williamsport Regional Medical Center, Divine Providence Hospital, Muncy Valley Hospital and the Susquehanna Health Medical Group, all of which are under the "umbrella" of Susquehanna Health.
No staff layoffs are expected, Chief Business Development Officer Ron Butler said during a media open house at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hospital on Tuesday. Butler also is president and CEO of Laurel Health Systems.
"We are both in good shape financially on our own, not stressed, so we are not doing this because we had to but rather because it was in the best interest of the community," Butler said.
Johnson agreed, saying any layoffs will occur over time through attrition, as employees retire or leave.
But, with the upcoming "sequester" in the federal budget under the Affordable Care Act, which is set to take effect Jan. 1, 2013, hospitals across the nation will see severe reductions in payments, Johnson said.
"Just our two counties will see a $330 million reduction over a two-year period," he added. "That is hard to imagine."
Every county and every state is running calculations to determine the impact if the sequester goes into effect as planned, Johnson said.
"But we are stronger together by joining forces," he added. "This is a strategy, a long-term partnership for the challenges that lie ahead."
For the immediate future, the only thing patients will notice, he said, is an eventual change in the signage and the presence of more doctors and nurses, as specialists in cancer and cardiology are made available to Soldiers and Sailors, occasionally at first and then more often.
Eleven work groups comprised of representatives of both organizations have been formed to begin immediately planning for physician recruitment needs, adding cancer care in Tioga County and other key partnership priorities.
"We won't have to send people miles away from their homes to get the type of medical care they need," Johnson said.
The costs for these services will remain the same, Butler said.
"Rates will not change this fiscal year," which runs from July to June, he added.
Services will improve by "bringing more cardiologists up occasionally, more ear, nose and throat doctors, and more primary care providers into the area," said Dr. Walter Laibinis, chief of internal medicine and chief medical officer at Soldiers and Sailors.
Soldiers and Sailors Chief Nursing Executive Janie Hilfiger said she thinks the move will be "great for nurses" from both organizations because Laurel Health nurses also will get an opportunity to sample working in specialties "we may not have here."
"It will be a great opportunity for our nursing staff to see how they do it down there (Williamsport) and for their staff to see how we do things here," Hilfiger said. "And, we can come up with the best of both worlds."
Patients also soon will have access to their medical records online through "My Key Care," which is used throughout the state so patients can become more active participants in their care, Johnson said.
"We have talked about providing consult support as well, with patients having online access to doctors," Johnson said. "Hands-on is still the best, but we will still be able to have a conversation between the patients' physicians or caregivers."