Susquehanna Health, UPMC merge

ER, heart and cancer treatment services are initial focus

WILLIAMSPORT — It’s official: Susquehanna Health has merged with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

At a special ceremony this week, executives with SH and UPMC gathered at Williamsport Hospital – joined by several hundred staff and others – marked the affiliation and talked of an improved model of health care services for this region.

“Susquehanna Health becomes a member of the UPMC family,” said Ann Pepperman, chairwoman of the UPMC Susquehanna Board of Directors. “Bringing with it tremendous benefits and tremendous opportunities.”

In May, Susquehanna – which consists of Williamsport, Divine Providence and Muncy Valley hospitals – announced a letter of intent to affiliate with UPMC following a search to find an organization supportive of the health system’s long-term goals.

Pepperman said SH executives reviewed affiliation proposals from 37 hospitals or health systems.

“This was not a strategy born of necessity,” she insisted, noting that Susquehanna already has many talented medical professionals and quality services in place.

Rather, the affiliation will mean better all-around health care.

UPMC said it will make a $500 million investment in the newly named UPMC Susquehanna, with initial areas of focus being expansion of emergency, heart and vascular, and cancer services, according to officials.

In fact, there are reports that a level two trauma center is being considered.

Other priorities involve establishing a neurosciences center, improving access to care with an urgent care network, and replacing an inpatient rehabilitation facility built in the 1960s.

Leslie C. Davis, chief operating officer, Health Services Division, UPMC, said both institutions have a commitment to the communities they serve, and UPMC affiliations with other health care systems have meant increased services and patient care in local communities.

For example, UPMC Harmot in Erie has resulted in an 11 percent decrease for local residents leaving Eric County for care elsewhere since that affiliation five years ago.

In addition, during the first three years of UPMC Altoona, more specialty services established there include a transplant clinic, a breast center, a telemedicine center, as well as specialists in cardiac care, orthopaedics, pediatrics and women’s health.

“When we bring a hospital or hospital system into the UPMC network, we make it better,” Davis said.

“This marks a new era of healthcare for our region. Building on our strong clinical quality and patient safety track record, emphasis on caring for patients and expertise in delivering care to all of the communities we serve, including rural communities, Susquehanna Health is even stronger with UPMC,” said Steven P. Johnson, president, UPMC Susquehanna.

“As a pre-eminent academic medical center and insurer, UPMC brings great resources to our community. UPMC’s academic partner, the University of Pittsburgh, has a medical school ranked fifth in NIH research funding and UPMC has the third-largest residency and fellowship program in the country. UPMC is the largest medical and behavioral health services insurer in western Pennsylvania and the number one insurance plan in the state for quality and consumer satisfaction. Through this affiliation, we are able to bring a new level of innovation and advanced care to our region,” Johnson said.

The decision to join with UMPC will help target Susquehanna’s long-term vision of bringing to the region another insurance option, an improvement to emergency services, expanded patient access and convenience, and a reduction in health care costs, he said.

Johnson said the plan is to maintain the present insurance carriers, while introducing UPMC’s carrier as well.

He said he does not foresee health care services presently in place at Susquehanna being outsourced.

“In fact, we see more services,” he said.

Dr. Donald Leathers, a pathologist and medical director of the Susquehanna Health laboratory, said he was impressed by the “systematic and detailed” partnership selection process, noting that the “cultural compatibility” between Susquehanna and potential partners was foremost in any decision.

“Of all the potential partners we evaluated, UPMC stood out as the one institution that shared all our cultural values, including an absolute commitment to clinical excellence,” he said.

The existing foundations in Lycoming and Tioga counties and their assets of over $40 million will exist in their current form. All fundraising dollars and donor gifts will continue to stay local and be used to support healthcare services in northcentral Pennsylvania.

UPMC Susquehanna’s local governance will continue under the Board of Directors consisting of 16 volunteer business and community members along with eight newly appointed members from UPMC. The UPMC Susquehanna Board will be responsible for quality of care, medical staff and growth initiatives.

(Williamsport Sun-Gazette staff writer Mike Reuther contributed to this report.)