Geisinger presence will prove worthy
Saturday marked the three-year anniversary of the passage of the Affordable Care Act, but much remains to be seen about what it will do to help the ailing health care system in the United States, and even whether all parts of it will withstand legal and moral challenges.
Meanwhile, Time magazine has brought focus to egregious practices in the health care industry through its recent special report, "Bitter Pill. Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us." Author Steve Brill describes an industry that, among other alarming traits, spent $5.36 billion on lobbying Congress from 1998 to 2012 - more than 3 1/2 times that of the defense industry, often considered the king of lobbying influence.
Frankly, a lot of what Brill described about high costs and even higher profits and shiny new buildings and six-figure hospital administrator salaries sounded a lot like Geisinger Health System (GHS) as it grows throughout central and northeastern Pennsylvania. So the topic couldn't be ignored when we sat down with the top administrators at Geisinger-Shamokin Area Community Hospital (G-SACH) and Geisinger Medical Center (GMC) to discuss the status after 14 months as a merged, "two-campus" hospital.
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By a far cry, there are no other examples in our midst of an entity that generated $2.9 billion - yes, billion - in revenue in a single fiscal year, as GHS did systemwide in 2011-12.
Geisinger will have sunk $10 million into its Tharptown campus in the first 18 months, with practical upgrades such as a new boiler, but also construction of a new urgent care center and ophthalmology clinic. Certainly, $10 million is significant, but consider what GHS has done again just this week at its Danville campus: started construction on a $52 million laboratory medicine building. Are such mega-projects part of the future at G-SACH?
Beyond developments on the local campus, we expect Geisinger to further impact the community at large. While we couldn't get information out of the administrators regarding any plans for developments in, say, downtown Shamokin comparable to GMC's spill into downtown Danville, we suspect such projects are possible.
Also in the first 14 months of the merger, employment at G-SACH has climbed by 50, or more than 12 percent. Can a growing G-SACH eventually have some impact on Northumberland County's unemployment rate, which was tied for 15th highest among Pennsylvania's 67 counties in January at 10.1 percent? It may, considering Montour County, Geisinger's base, has the second best rate in the state at 6.2.
And finally, we can't help but think Geisinger's local presence could pay dividends as the economy turns around and, we trust, new entrepreneurs look to do business locally.
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The higher cost of health care with Geisinger in town has not gone unnoticed. But Geisinger, which is recognized nationally for its advancements in myriad disciplines, believes it can also provide better care, and that bottom line is just as important.
With that, as concerning as Brill's article is, and as much as it may apply to GHS, we remain convinced that having Geisinger in the lower anthracite region can only improve our quality of life.