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Susquehanna Life

The Impact of Regional Healthcare

Jan 04, 2016 01:58PM ● By Erica Shames

David Feinberg, introducing the two-day symposia.

Among the things that make Geisinger unique, according to Geisinger Health System (GHS) president and CEO David Feinberg, M.D., MBA, is that it was founded by a woman who had the foresight to see “what we could do if we could get the right people together,” Feinberg said, introducing “A Century of Transformation and Innovation,” the two-day symposia celebrating Geisinger’s centennial.

In line with that community and regional focus, the symposia brought together the heads of five regional chambers of commerce to economic development in the counties served by Geisinger. Moderated by Frank Trembulak, executive vice president and chief operating office, GHS, the panel began with a presentation by Bob Garrett, president and CEO of the Greater Susquehanna Valley Chamber of Commerce, who proclaimed that Geisinger’s 44-county footprint is the “new footprint of Central Pennsylvania” and that through its expansion it is the “economic engine” powering the region.

Garrett outlined the four legged stool that comprises the chamber’s focus: industrial development; retention and expansion; livability; and entrepreneurism and Geisinger’s role in helping to improve the livability of the region’s downtowns. The regional model in place at Geisinger is impacting the behavior of chambers of commerce as well. “At one time,” Garrett noted, “it would be unthinkable that the chamber heads would be sitting together and working together. Now, it is an imperative.”

The multiplier effect of Geisinger, said Garrett, is huge and can be seen and felt. Equally important, yet more elusive, is implementing necessary infrastructure. “More companies are saying if we can’t get high speed internet, we’re leaving,” said Garrett. “That would be the next place we’d like to work together [with Geisinger].”

Bob Durkin, president and CEO of the Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce, said the purchase of Community Medical Center by Geisinger is one of the most important and valuable things to happen to Lackawanna County. “We have recognized the opportunities we can bring to our community by focusing on healthcare as an area of economic development,” said Durkin. “And that leads to the added challenge of keeping our students in our area. It’s the chicken and the egg: will they come to the area if we don’t have jobs and will jobs come if we don’t have the workforce?”

(L to R) Trembulak, Durkin, Gaffney, Garrett, Tunall, Genderen.

The fact that Geisinger is located in Danville has had a huge impact on Montour and Columbia counties,” noted Fred Gaffney, president of the Columbia Montour Chamber of Commerce. “Geisinger has established a model we as economic developers try to encourage and promote as we do our work,” he said.

Of the 18,000 jobs in Montour County, said Gaffney, 40 percent are directly related to healthcare and support services. The fact that healthcare is recession-proof has helped to diversify and strengthen the regional economy. “It has provided jobs for spouses and supported the real estate market,” said Gaffney. “As Geisinger acquires new properties, development pops up around it, supporting the infrastructure of a downtown. The services provided at GHS bring people who stay in hotels and use restaurants. We want to promote our area and bring them back for more positive reasons in the future.”

There’s also the issue of engagement, added Gaffney. “We all have representatives from Geisinger on our boards – Geisinger employees are engaged in our communities. Geisinger has demonstrated through its growth that regionalism and collaboration are more effective in service delivery,” concluded Gaffney. “We all should take the same approach.”

Jim Tunall, president and executive director of the Juniata River Valley Area Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau, referenced the community-wide Meltdown program he spearheaded with business owner Marge Delozier-Noss in which participants lost “thousands of pounds.” And then he issued a challenge.  

“I went into [the program] weighing 290 pounds,” Tunall revealed. “I had been taking hypertension medicines for 30 years—Lipitor for 25 years—and I came from a family where everyone has died from heart conditions. Through our chamber and the Geisinger system, I’d like to get the word out that prevention is the single most important thing for the future—that we can control health costs by living right, exercising, eating right, not smoking, not eating sugar or salt and drinking 90 ounces of water a day. I would love to sit down and discuss how we can help, and how Geisinger can help us peddle prevention.”

Wico van Genderen, president and CEO of the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Business and Industry, who has lived in Europe, Asia, Australia and New Zealand, heralded the high quality of healthcare Geisinger provides. “Sometimes we lose perspective about how great our medical facilities are,” he lauded. “Geisinger offers some of the finest medical facilities and physicians in the country, their databases are very good and they really care,” he said. “My physicians talk to me. That’s the key to making sure you get proactive medical care.”

Ultimately, Feinberg said, Geisinger’s focus must be to deliver excellent healthcare and be community-directed. “America’s watching Geisinger,” he concluded in his introductory remarks. “There is pressure on us to define or redefine how medicine is delivered in the U.S. It’s an important time to be engaged in that discussion. And that means we need to redouble our efforts to focus on our community.” 

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