Meetings to debate possible merger of J.C. Blair, Pinnacle

HUNTINGDON – Executives with J.C. Blair Health System of Huntingdon and PinnacleHealth System of Harrisburg will participate in town hall meetings next week to discuss their potential merger.

J.C. Blair and Pinnacle began “exclusive” partnership discussions in May, and the parties signed a nonbinding memorandum of understanding in September, according to J.C. Blair spokeswoman Christine Gildea and joint news releases.

J.C. Blair – which is licensed for 100 beds – hopes a merger with the four-campus Harrisburg system will enable it to add services locally and recruit more physicians, Gildea said.

The town hall meetings with a presentation and a question-and-answer session at the J.C. Blair Education Center on the hospital’s campus are set for 5:30 p.m. Dec. 17 and 7:30 a.m. Dec. 18, Gildea said.

It’s hard for a small hospital like J.C. Blair to muster the resources for as many services as it would like to offer, and it’s hard to lure physicians – particularly specialists – to small towns like Huntingdon, Gildea said.

Offering more services locally – as a merger with Pinnacle may allow – is preferable to becoming “a feeder system” for a larger hospital, Gildea said.

The merger would be a “good cultural fit,” as Pinnacle shares the belief that providing service close to home for patients is important, said J.C. Blair CEO Lisa Mallon.

Pinnacle has proven that by building a new hospital on the West Shore of Harrisburg, where 40 percent of the company’s patients are, Mallon said.

Local services are especially important for the Huntingdon area, which has an abundance of older people, who tend to find traveling for care stressful, Mallon said.

Among services that could become available locally with a merger are speciality orthopedics, she said.

The merger would also make it easier for local patients to access higher-level services like transplants that would still require travel.

It would be easier to share medical records, and the Pinnacle doctors who are already stationed as hospitalists in J.C. Blair can guide patients because of their familiarity with the doctors who would be providing those higher-level services in Harrisburg, Mallon said.

Midsized Pinnacle was also appealing because of its commitment to high-level care while keeping costs down, Mallon said.

The possibility of a Pinnacle alliance with Penn State Hershey Medical Center – which is more academic- and research-oriented than community-focused Pinnacle – makes the merger potential even more intriguing, Mallon said.

Those two systems “have entered into formal discussions to broaden their existing strategic relationship,” according to a late-November news release from Pinnacle.

The Pinnacle-J.C. Blair merger talks grew out of a proposal Pinnacle made about a year ago to provide telemedicine to J.C. Blair, according to Gildea.

“[The talks] evolved,” she said. “It became clear we could be more for each other.”

The talks could come to a resolution within four to six weeks, Gildea predicted.

Pinnacle wants a partner that would enable it to expand its services into a new community like Huntingdon, according to Pinnacle spokeswoman Christina Persson.

Those services include infertility, high-risk pregnancy and neo-natal intensive care, spine care and advanced stroke and cardiac care, according to Persson.

J.C. Blair needs a partner, because “in the new world of health care, you can’t survive alone,” Mallon said.

That “new world” will be based on population management, she said.

The old “fill a bed, you have revenue” method of operation is “quickly evaporating,” she said.

The merger would make J.C. Blair a subsidiary of Pinnacle, but there would be no buyout of assets, Mallon said.

In addition to its hospital, 100-year-old J.C. Blair employs more than 30 primary care and specialty physicians and nurse practitioners in a medical services unit and offers rehabilitation services through a joint venture with HealthSouth, according to the news release.

Pinnacle, which is 140 years old, operates the Community, West Shore, Harrisburg and Polyclinic campuses and medical services that include family practice, imaging, outpatient surgery and oncology and various locations, according to the news release.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.