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Memorial Hospital settling in as for-profit

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It has been about a year since Memorial Health Systems in York was acquired by Tennessee-based Community Health Systems Corp., and the most visible change the deal promised is yet to come.

"We got a first pass at plans last week," Memorial Hospital President and CEO Sally Dixon said at the end of April about the replacement hospital that Community promised to build on the site of a former golf course near Route 30.

Memorial acquired the West Manchester Township site some time ago and had been working toward the start of construction before becoming part of Community, Dixon said. But that process "had not actually gotten to the point of creating a detailed plan."

The current process is still in preliminary stages, Dixon said; for instance, how many rooms it will have "is still up in the air." Previous Business Journal articles indicated that the facility was estimated at 150 beds, an increase over Memorial's current 100, but "now that we're looking for all private rooms for a new facility, that number will probably be adjusted down," she said.

Regardless of the final number, Dixon said, the new facility will be designed to be expandable.

Also yet to be determined is exactly what the current hospital will be used for once the new facility is completed. However, Dixon said, the plans are for all inpatient beds to be at the new site.

Construction is expected to start in a little more than a year and, depending on the weather, take about two years to complete, Dixon said. Standard approval processes are happening, "but we don't see any big stumbling blocks at this point."

Meanwhile, Dixon said, lots of other changes not necessarily visible to the public have been happening in the health system as it begins to feel the effects of being in a larger organization.

"We have access to additional resources through Community, whether through best practices or additional development," Dixon said.

For example, in March, Community formed a strategic alliance with Cleveland Clinic. A news release said Community-affiliated hospitals will advance their clinical programs through access to Cleveland's expertise in medical specialties, tertiary services and innovative approaches to patient care, while Cleveland will extend its reach and quality initiatives into regions served by Community.

Memorial also is working on other initiatives and partnerships. Earlier this year, it announced a partnership with Lehigh Valley Health Network Regional Burn Center, the largest and most-experienced burn center in Pennsylvania, to offer TeleBurn service, in which physicians here can consult specialists there.

Memorial is working on a similar telestroke partnership with Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center using the LionNet program. That is part of its efforts to gain Primary Stroke Center accreditation, which it expects to receive soon.

On electronic health records' meaningful use requirements, which hospitals have to meet as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Dixon said being part of Community has hastened the process.

"They have a standard platform that they use that we've implemented in all of our hospital-owned practices," she said.

Recruiting physicians and practices, another ongoing effort that is part of Memorial's strategic plan, is proceeding well, Dixon said, and overall utilization, which statewide has experienced a slight downturn, has been relatively flat at Memorial.

Joining Community meant a change from nonprofit to for-profit status, but Dixon and Josette Myers, Memorial vice president of marketing and community relations, said the transition hasn't occasioned much comment from the public.

"For them, nothing really changed," Myers said. "The same staff is here providing the same care they've always received. It's the same organization as far as they're concerned."

Looking forward, Dixon said, the biggest questions in Memorial's future are less about Community and more about health care reform and what form that eventually takes.

"I think the biggest challenges are going to be what system we're working under from a federal standpoint," she said. "It's the uncertainty of knowing what the future's going to look like in the industry."

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