DANVILLE - Geisinger Health System (GHS) has reached into a new territory in exploring another potential merger.

GHS and Holy Spirit Health System, Camp Hill, announced Monday the signing of a letter of intent to explore ways the health care organizations can work together to benefit health care in southcentral Pennsylvania. The same step was made with Shamokin Area Community Hospital (SACH) and other regional hospitals in advance of an eventual purchase by or merger with Geisinger.

The signing of the letter of intent enables each organization to investigate in greater detail the opportunities to affiliate. The due diligence and approval process is expected to take six to nine months.

"This is an important time in our 50-year history as we plan for our future," said Sister Romaine Niemeyer, Holy Spirit Health System president and chief executive officer was quoted in a press release from Geisinger. "The Sisters of Christian Charity, in their sponsorship role, and the board of directors are committed to ensuring the mission-driven Catholic identity of Holy Spirit Health System."

Catholic identity

That was one of the concerns expressed by those commenting Monday on the news at pennlive.com, the website of the Patriot News, headquartered in Harrisburg across the river from Camp Hill. While some consider it a "godsend," others said they hope Holy Spirit can keep its Catholic identity and values.

Holy Spirit already participates in the Geisinger Health Plan provider network.

"Forward thinking organizations such as Holy Spirit and Geisinger proactively work toward enhancing care, and that is what we are now considering together," GHS President and Chief Executive Officer Dr. Glenn Steele Jr. was quoted in the release.

The organizations share a number of awards including, Health Care's Most Wired hospitals and health systems, Joint Commission accreditation and 100 Great Places to Work in Healthcare by Becker's Hospital Review.

One of 5 agreements

The proposed agreement marks a return to the Harrisburg area for Geisinger, which entered into a partnership with the area's largest hospital, Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, in 1997. The two sides then split three years later.

The agreement with Holy Spirit is the fifth in the past three years. The G-SACH merger was announced in 2010 and completed with the birth of Geisinger-Shamokin Area Community Hospital on Jan. 1, 2012. Geisinger has since joined with Bloomsburg Health System and Community Medical Center and Scranton and is awaiting state approval to do the same with Lewistown Hospital.

Also, in August, GHS announced it has entered into an agreement with The Society of the Sisters of Christian Charity of New Jersey to purchase the Holy Family Convent, a neighboring property in Danville. Geisinger plans to convert two of the residential floors in the six-story convent to general office/conference space.