LEWISBURG — The joint capital investment of $265 million with partner-competitor Geisinger marks the latest in a series of evolutions Evangelical Community Hospital has undergone the past two years.
The Lewisburg-based healthcare provider opened its West Branch Medical Center immediately south of the main hospital, new business offices immediately north and its new Center for Orthopaedics in renovated space behind the hospital.
Evangelical debuted a mobile health clinic, opened an orthopaedics location at The Miller Center, acquired Brookpark Family Practice and Central Penn Gastroenterology Associates.
Most ambitious of all, perhaps up until the enhanced relationship with Geisinger, is the construction and fundraising for PRIME — a four-story, 112,000-square-foot addition designed to make all of Evangelical’s patient rooms single-occupancy. Construction is estimated at $72 million.
Evangelical President and CEO Kendra Aucker said the expansion was mapped out in a strategic plan formulated after she became the hospital’s top administrator in July 2015.
“We have been in a fast growth mode,” Aucker said.
Patient satisfaction scores mandated by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services show correlated improvement. According to Aucker, the mark jumped from 74.8 percent to 82.7 percent in that time frame. Employee engagement rose from the 33rd to 71st percentile and provider engagement up from the 49th to 93rd percentile.
The hospital’s financial strength grew along with patient satisfaction, rising 20.5 percent to more than $227 million in fiscal 2017.
The PRIME project addresses patient dissatisfaction with noise and privacy when admitted at the facility, Aucker said.
Evangelical is an anomaly: a profitable, financially stable independent hospital in a health care atmosphere defined by mergers and acquisitions. Though Geisinger negotiated to name 30 percent of Evangelical’s board as part of the agreement, Evangelical officials were steadfast in maintaining independence in business and operations.
The deal between the two entities, to begin Jan. 1 with no end date, raises Evangelical to a top tier provider within the Geisinger Health Plan. It also incorporates Evangelical into Geisinger’s electronic health record management system and other information technology platforms.
Though the nature of the investment is unprecedented, officials from both hospitals said when announcing the agreement Monday, a relationship existed long before the partnership formed.
Geisinger partners with Evangelical in oncology and pediatric services, infectious disease and eICU, which allows remote patient monitoring by off-site specialists. The two formed a limited liability company, Evangelical Geisinger Health, to partner with Bucknell University to operate Bucknell Student Health.
Lynn Miller, executive vice president, clinical operations, Geisinger, said the latest partnership, one with a minimum joint commitment of $265 million over the next five years, is an extension of what the entities already established.
“Our partnership with Evangelical is an opportunity to strengthen an already strong relationship with a like-minded organization to better serve patients in Central Pennsylvania. Again, everything we do is about caring for the people we serve, and we look for innovative ways to enhance care and increase access,” Miller said.
Evangelical’s growth has been rapid for the rural independent, but it need only look to Danville for a large-scale example of growth.
Geisinger operates in 45 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties plus seven counties in southern New Jersey. It’s teamed with St. Luke’s University Health Network, based in Allentown, to build a hospital in Schuylkill County and teamed with Pittsburgh-based insurance company Highmark to build a hospital in the Muncy area of Lycoming County.
It acquired the former Commonwealth Medical College in 2016, the same year it acquired Jersey Shore Hospital. Acquisitions in the years prior include hospitals in Lewistown, Bloomsburg, Scranton and Shamokin.
Admissions in Danville, Bloomsburg, Scranton and the Wyoming Valley site totaled 56,769 in fiscal 2013 with 1.74 million outpatient visits. The health system ended fiscal 2017 with nearly twice as many admissions, 106,005, and 2.71 million outpatient visits at seven Pennsylvania hospitals plus Atlanticare facilities in New Jersey.
Within its footprint, patient services expanded, too. Geisinger added a stroke center at its Danville campus and opened a new emergency department at its South Wilkes-Barre facility. Robotic arm technology was introduced at both South Wilkes-Barre and the Shamokin sites.
“Along with expanding services and reach, Geisinger also has grown its workforce. In the past five years, we’ve grown from nearly 20,000 employees to more than 32,000 across the system. During that same time, we’ve also grown our physician group from 1,055 to more than 1,800,” Miller said.
Aucker said feedback has been mixed though largely positive. Some told her the move solidified Evangelical’s independent standing. Others were taking a wait-and-see approach, she said.
The partnership could lead to developments at Evangelical where, because of Geisinger’s resources and expertise, the hospital begins offering treatments and services not currently available.
“This is a strategic move for them, as well. We are ensuring we are stronger,” Aucker said.