J.C. Blair Hospital seeks direction

As a small town with a large and tightly knit community, Huntingdon, PA is reluctant to change. About four years ago, JC Blair Memorial Hospital had become affiliated with Harrisburg-based PinnacleHealth in hopes to reverse a downward spiral that they had been facing for a number of years. This affiliation came at the cost of about 20% of the hospital for a $8 million dollar loan over 3 years, with the possibility of a merger in the near future. Although this had helped the hospital to grow and offer more to the community, the margins have not gotten much better.

At a meeting held at the hospital on Wednesday, CEO Adam Dimm confirmed the rumors that many had been discussing regarding the future of JC Blair. They would be seeking a partnership with a larger healthcare provider that would help to sustain and grow the hospital to provide more to Huntingdon. Possible partners that have been involved in discussions include UPMC, which had recently bought Pinnacle, PSU Health, Duke Life Point, and Americore Health, amongst others. Geisinger, who purchased nearby Lewistown Hospital in 2013, stated that they didn’t have the bandwidth to support additional ventures. Dimm mentioned that by mid to late September, they hoped to reach an agreement on which direction to turn.

The community had many questions for Dimm and his team about the future and voiced their concerns. Among the top of these concerns was the quality of the services provided. Over the past two years, JC Blair had operated as a 4-star hospital, which puts them in the top 22% of hospitals in the country. Would a merger affect what services they could offer and how well they could provide them? This could put the reputation of the hospital at risk. If they were to merge with UPMC, who has nearly doubled their size in the past few years, would they even be seen as a serious asset of the company? We’re getting to the point where most of the state is relying on this $18 billion dollar giant to provide sufficient and appropriate care.

Others provided input that would allow the hospital to continue working without a larger network. Suggestions such as relocation to eliminate costs and provide better access would surely help drive business. It had been suggested that the 220 square foot area that JC Blair operates in now could be consolidated into a much more affordable and compact 100 square foot or less building. Of course this would cost the hospital in the short-term, but long-term this relocation would make a lot of sense. This would provide them with “critical access”, which could have been a $5 million dollar / year credit since 2005.

The community will be continuing the discussion throughout the next few months to ensure that the right decision is made. Although the community will have a deep impact on the outcome, the board of directors ultimately have the final say. Regardless of the stance taken, all parties are looking out for the best interests of the hospital for decades to come.