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It's a case of health imitating sports

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As their local hospitals change hands, patients in Central Pennsylvania may feel a familiar tug, especially if they love football.

They may find themselves torn between Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Baltimore.

The pull from Philadelphia comes courtesy of Lancaster General Health and its affiliation with Penn Medicine, based in the city of brotherly love.

Pittsburgh will enter the tug-of-war through the looming affiliation between Harrisburg-based PinnacleHealth System and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

Where does Baltimore come in?

The same way thousands of Marylanders have funneled into Pennsylvania over the last 15 years: through York County.

Johns Hopkins Medicine already is collaborating with York-based WellSpan Health in the field of pediatric surgery. And the Baltimore-based health system also has advertised on billboards in York County. One has even appeared north of York city.

Many Yorkers, meanwhile, often head south for care. If traffic is light, it only takes about 45 minutes to drive from central York County to downtown Baltimore.

The speculation may be premature, but it seems WellSpan could be pining for a larger partner as it fends off a revived challenger in its home county.

Memorial Hospital in Springettsbury Township is poised to join PinnacleHealth, which will no doubt lean on its affiliation with UPMC as a new Memorial is built in West Manchester Township. (And they better move fast on construction before interest rates float any higher.)

WellSpan, of course, has already branched beyond York, picking up hospitals in Lancaster and Lebanon counties. An affiliation with Johns Hopkins could help the system make inroads outside its home base.

A pigskin pickle

Don’t be surprised if midstaters end up picking their hospitals based on how they choose their sports teams. Indeed, the health systems could break along regional lines that, in my experience, roughly mimic football fandom.

Of any place in Central Pennsylvania, Lancaster and Lebanon seem to bleed the deepest green, perennially pulling for the Eagles.

Harrisburg and Dauphin County are torn, but I sense the edge goes to the Steelers in black and gold.

York, with its blue-collar history and proximity to the Mason-Dixon line, is split between the Ravens and the Steelers – united, however, in their disdain for the New England Patriots. In other words, Care New England Health System may want to steer clear.

Where does that leave Cumberland County?

If regulators end up forcing Pinnacle to sell Carlisle Regional Medical Center, it might attract a buyer even farther south, perhaps among the hospitals and health systems of Washington, D.C.

It would be appropriate. After all, the Washington Redskins used to hold training camp at Dickinson College. They now train at the Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center in Richmond, Va., a city that also happens to be home to Bon Secours Health System.

The other wild card is Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. But I don’t think you could find two better brands in Central Pennsylvania. The center’s challenge is finding a partner that helps it expand more widely before other systems elbow it aside.

You would like to think that people pick health care based on measures like cost and quality, especially since it often involves matters of life and death. But good data can be hard to find, particularly when it comes to price.

A 2012 Google study found that the top three factors influencing hospital choice were: reputation (94 percent); health-plan acceptance (90 percent); and physician recommendation (86 percent).

Recommendations from friends and family mattered to 51 percent of prospective patients, according to the study, which was based on surveys of hospital researchers and an analysis of online behavior.

Health care also is an emotional decision based, in part, on intangibles like what is most familiar. So don’t be surprised if hospitals lean on their links to well-followed football teams.

What’s that place where the Steelers practice sometimes? Oh, yeah. It’s called the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.

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Joel Berg

Joel Berg

Joel Berg is editor of the Central Penn Business Journal. Born in Philadelphia, raised in Northern Virginia and now living in York, he's a graduate of Franklin & Marshall College and the University of Maryland. Have a question or story idea? Email him at joelb@cpbj.com. Follow him on Twitter, @JoelBYorkPa.

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