BURNHAM - Dr. Rajeshwar Malhotra compared it to a shotgun marriage with no option for divorce. Dr. Michael Murray compared it to working in the army and Dr. Ricardo Carter compared it to evicting your own parents out of their house. Whichever way you think about it, the persistent fear of merging remained the topic of discussion at the Save the Lewistown Hospital meeting Thursday night at the Quality Inn in Burnham.
Though the merging entity is still unknown, three physicians present at the meeting who represent The Concerned Physicians and Health Care Providers of Mifflin and Juniata County, are concerned about the lack of transparency from the hospital administration and the perceived rush to merge, Malhotra said.
"We have been told that the hospital will not survive without merging, but I have spoken to an outside financial consultant who says that our hospital has great asset value," Malhotra said. "Though revenue is going down, the hospital is in a good location, has money available and has been dependably paying bills. We are on the right track."
Sentinel photo by BRADLEY KREITZER
Dr. Rajeshwar Malhotra speaks during the Concerned Physicians and Healthcare Providers of Mifflin and Juniata Counties town meeting Thursday evening at the Quality Inn in Burnham.
A financial consultant came to a recent hospital meeting to discuss the prospect of merging, Dr. Stephen Solomon said. When asked why the hospital had to merge now, Solomon said the consultant replied that it doesn't. However, said the consultant, you never know what will happen in five years.
Dr. Wayne Miller, a family physician from Shamokin, recently went through a merger with Geisinger at Shamokin Area Community Hospital. At the time, SACH had a great reputation and was extremely profitable, but the board decided to merge anyway in the interest of preserving the hospital in the future, Miller said.
"The commitment of the board is to keep the hospital open in the long run, and the physicians understood that," Miller said. "We initially had to be convinced that the projections were correct and that merging was the best decision. However, as the process continued, the medical staff was very involved."
Shamokin Hospital eventually presented an agreement to Geisinger which included wide insurance coverage, keeping all employees and allowing independent physicians to remain independent, Miller said. Eight months later, the agreement has been upheld and physicians were given full privileges, he added.
Dr. Anuj Chopra, a urologist from Bloomsburg Hospital, had a different story to tell of his Geisinger merger experience. Since merging in July, the hospital has lost eight primary care physicians, four emergency room staff and the entire nursing staff, he said.
"Geisinger can run a facility like nobody's business, but when it comes to patient care they are lacking," Chopra said. "The experience has not been physician-friendly, forcing many doctors to leave and, in turn, patients are leaving with them. If you have been seeing the same doctor for 25, years you aren't going to suddenly switch."
The number of patients has gone down so badly that the Bloomsburg Hospital OR was completely shutdown for an entire day in the middle of the week, Chopra said. If you don't have the services, you can't support a hospital in the long run, he added.
"We are concerned about the health of our community," Carter said. "This is our community and this is home to us. It's disturbing to hear these things about our health care and the possibility that this hospital may change hands."
The Lewistown Hospital Board of Directors maintains that no final decision has been made about a merging partner, including Geisinger, but the possibility of losing the town hospital to any monopoly is concerning, Carter said. A hospital that serves the community should not be focused more on business than health care, he said.
"The importance is in protecting the choice in how health care is delivered," Carter said. "If the hospital is under the umbrella of a larger health care entity, you will not have the choice of going to the provider you desire or getting treatment where you want."
Solomon, who previously worked at a large health care entity for 19 years, said that those speaking out against the merger aren't opposing people, but policy, specifically patient care and insurance use.
"Our local hospital understands the variety of cultures in the area," Solomon said in reference to the Amish and Mennonite communities. "Many of these people are self-insured and would not be able to afford treatment at a large hospital. A retired individual also wouldn't be able to afford the increased co-pay for surgery with a larger hospital."
Though Malhotra said that he respects the board's tireless effort to better our community, he urges them to slow down, get the community and in-hospital community more involved and examine the issue further.
"The board has always made decisions that they believe are best for the community at the time," Malhotra said. "But in hindsight, they were not always the best choices. Don't let this be one of those times."