Right now, communities all across Pennsylvania are dealing with the significant economic fallout from hospitals being forced to lay off or furlough employees as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. That problem could grow even worse as some hospitals struggle to remain open.
Fortunately, Penn State Health’s acquisition of Holy Spirit Hospital could prevent such a disastrous outcome from happening here in Central Pennsylvania. Not only would the potential closure of a hospital hurt our region’s fine reputation of healthcare, but it would devastate sectors of our economy that depend on hospitals.
We know this because more than one in 10 jobs in Pennsylvania are supported by hospitals. In fact, Pennsylvania hospitals provided an immense $136.1 billion economic impact, supporting over 650,000 jobs in 2018, according to a study by the Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania (HAP) (https://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2019/12/17/1961691/0/en/New-Report-PA-Hospitals-Support-One-in-10-Jobs.html).
Simply put, hospitals are economic engines for their communities, but the pandemic has hit them hard. HAP believes that the mandated elimination of elective procedures during the pandemic could potentially cost hospitals 40% of their income (https://cumberlink.com/live_well_in_the_cumberland_valley/groups-concerned-over-future-of-many-pa-hospitals-in-wake-of-financial-report/article_71406e6a-2c9b-598f-bf30-d08d7c181577.html).
That will make the operating future of Holy Spirit Hospital difficult. Prior to the pandemic, the Camp Hill-based hospital already struggled with an operating margin under 4%. That’s a marked improvement for the hospital under Geisinger’s leadership, but all other area hospitals had margins over 10%, including Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center at 12.8%.
That’s why the approval of Penn State Health’s acquisition of Holy Spirit Hospital by Attorney General Josh Shapiro and the Federal Trade Commission is critical. At a time when our economic hospital engines are struggling, we cannot risk the closure of any of them. We need to preserve — and grow — our economy as we strive to rebuild during the pandemic.
Preservation of Holy Spirit Hospital means protecting 1,600 jobs. That’s millions of dollars every year in salaries, wages and benefits for local residents in the region. In turn, those employees — the fiber of our communities — are spending their dollars at our local businesses.
As for building, those job numbers will only increase under Penn State Health’s investment in the West Shore, which already includes a new primary care facility in Mechanicsburg to employ a dozen doctors and staff. Penn State Health already has a pulmonary and critical care practice that has 10 physicians, nine advance practice providers, and outpatient practices in Lemoyne and Carlisle.
The job creation and economic impact won’t end there for Penn State Health. It has created hundreds of construction jobs to build its new hospital, Hampden Medical Center, in Hampden Township. The hospital will open next fall and provide a bookend of services with Holy Spirit, promising continued significant investments in our local economy.
This acquisition of Holy Spirit Hospital by Penn State Health makes so much economic sense for our region. As the pandemic continues, we need to do everything we can to support local jobs and businesses. We can’t risk losing this economic engine in Central Pennsylvania.
Finally it’s important to remember that we are a growing region with growing health care needs, while being blessed with exceptional access to health care. This makes us more competitive as a place for business expansion and attraction, and as a place that attracts the next generation of workforce.
So beyond the jobs, it’s important that we do not lose the health care capacity at Holy Spirit either. Just another reason why this acquisition makes so much sense.
David Black is the President & CEO of the Harrisburg Regional Chamber & CREDC and George Book is the President & CEO of the West Shore Chamber of Commerce.
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