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Conemaugh Health System announces acquisition by Duke affiliate
By: Maria Miller
JOHNSTOWN, Pa. -- An historic announcement was made in Johnstown Friday. Conemaugh Health System will be bought out by a southern-based, for-profit heath care system affiliated with Duke University.
It was a packed atrium at Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center Monday morning as hundreds of doctors and nurses lined the railings of each floor waiting for an announcement that's been speculated on for weeks.
"A system like Conemaugh, with all of the advanced clinical services that are provided today, now has access to the resources of a top 10 academic medical center," said William Carpenter III, CEO of LifePoint Hospitals.
"How exciting is it that a partner is coming to invest in big-town medicine in small-town America?" said Scott Becker, CEO of Conemaugh Health System. "You can feel the excitement in the room. You could see the excitement from our employees."
While the agreement is not yet finalized, the plan is for Conemaugh Health System to be purchased by Duke LifePoint Healthcare, a network that will acquire all three of Conemaughs hospitals in Johnstown, Northern Cambria and Meyersdale, as well as the outpatient centers and Conemaugh Phsyician Group practices.
As part of the agreement Duke said it will invest $500 million in the first 10 years, with new construction already planned.
"We're planning an ambulatory surgical center in Richland, all kinds of outpatient facilities along with it. [This is] major construction, probably in the $30 to $50 million range," Becker said. "[We're planning] an Ebensburg medical home, collapsing all locations into one, preparing to make outpatient convenient and easy for our patients."
"This affiliation is going to give us the money we need to compete basically against any health care in the region," said Dr. William Fritz, director of anesthesiology at Conemaugh.
It's a partnership many have speculated on for months and something employees may have worried about. But with the rapid changes in health care, Fritz said it's a partnership Conemaugh needed to survive.
"Hospitals are going to need lots of things like computer systems, integrated clinical systems," Fritz said. "A lot of things that are very expensive, and it's going to be hard for small health systems to provide them to their communities, but with scale, a big partner like this, we can do it."
Because Duke Lifepoint is a for-profit company it'll be the first time Conemaugh Health System will contribute to the tax base, directly helping the local economy.
Duke University Health System is ranked as one of the top 10 hospitals in the country, but so is nearby University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. While UPMC doesn't have as much of a presence in Johnstown as it had in the past, there are still several clinics and UPMC recently took over Altoona Regional Hospital, so many in the region are already affiliated with UPMC. But hospital leaders at Conemaugh told 6 News Friday that they're not worried about the competition.
"They're fervent about their basketball down there, 'Cameron Crazies' but I'll tell you this, OK? They're even more fervent and they're even more passionate about health care," said Ronald Vickroy, chairman of the Conemaugh board. "That excites me. I knew immediately we had a great fit here."
All jokes aside though, Duke and Pitt are not only now rivals on the court, they're rivals in health care, now coming into Pitt territory, where many patients are aligned with UPMC.
"UPMC is a great hospital. There are other great systems in this area, and I'm not worried about that," said Carpenter. "I look forward to working with colleagues to help make the community healthier."
"It starts here and if you work it that way, you start here and you work out, competition is good," said Cambria County Commissioner Tom Chernisky. "Competition is good for everybody. When you have good competition, you know what? It helps people."
"We are an important resource to this community, by far the largest employer and we want to keep it going," Becker said. "We want to be great for Johnstown and the West Central Pennsylvania region."
The deal is expected to be finalized later this year, probably in the fall, but hospital officials want patients to know that nothing will change or affect their services or care during the transition process. Officials also said there are no layoffs planned.