By Francis Scarcella

The Daily Item

SHAMOKIN -- A decision on a possible merger between Geisinger Health System and Shamokin Area Community Hospital following nearly a year of talks is expected later this month, despite differing opinions from leaders at the institutions.

Rumors are just that -- rumors, Tom Harlow, president and CEO at Shamokin, said Thursday.

"Nothing has happened and anyone saying anything different is wrong," Harlow said. "It is no secret that we have been in discussions with Geisinger, but nothing has been agreed on."

The two institutions are working on an agreement, said Shamokin board member Ron Lentini, who would not confirm nor deny a merger.

"We are not allowed to say anything other then they are working on an affiliation," Lentini said. "I can't say anything else one way or another."

Discussions will be addressed at a Nov. 29 board meeting, Lentini said.

"If anyone wants any more information, then they should come to the meeting," Lentini said.

Harlow said he wasn't sure what Lentini was talking about.

"No one should be speaking of anything at this point," Harlow said. "What will occur at the next board meeting, we will just wait and see."

A decision will soon be made, said Dave Jolley, vice president of public relations at Geisinger.

"It is no secret that we have been talking," Jolley said. "We expect a decision one way or the other in the near future."

A merger will be good for the Valley, Northumberland County Commissioner Vinny Clausi said.

"I think if it would happen it would be great for the region," Clausi said. "We can not afford to lose the hospital, and I don't think the Shamokin hospital can stand alone right now, so it would be good for them to combine."

After a failed attempt to work with Scranton's Community Hospital, Geisinger announced last December its intention to explore ways to work with Shamokin.

Harlow previously said the two organizations have many mutual goals. Together, he said, they will now find ways to "engage doctors and other health care professionals to jointly develop services for patients and their family. Our goal is to provide a wide spectrum of medical services so people can access care close to home."

Both organizations are members of the Keystone Health Information Exchange, a program designed to increase the electronic infrastructure and electronic health record system throughout Central Pennsylvania.

Geisinger and Shamokin collaborate to provide women's health services in the Shamokin area, and Geisinger operates a multi-specialty clinic located on the Shamokin campus that includes gynecology, cardiology and sleep medicine.

Geisinger merged with the Hershey Medical Center in 1999, a venture that dissolved two years later.

E-mail comments to fscarcella@dailyitem.com.

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