PINE TOWNSHIP – Officials from Grove City Medical Center, Allegheny Health Network and Highmark Health joined community leaders and hospital employees Monday for what Robert Jackson, the hospital’s chief executive officer, called the “greatest day in health care for Mercer County.”

The celebration marked the official announcement of a merger between Grove City Medical Center and Allegheny Health Network, a Highmark Health company serving the western Pennsylvania.

Timothy R. Bonner, chairman of the GCMC board of directors, said the affiliation agreement will enhance the quality, and broaden the scope of medical services that can be provided in the Grove City community.

“I’m confident through this merger that the Grove City community will have greater access to specialized care by the leading physicians,” he said, “as well as the latest technology for detecting and treating medical conditions.”

As a small, independent hospital, Bonner said a merger with a company like AHN was the only option for GCMC to continue to provide its residents with quality health care.

“Small, independent hospitals have become an institution of the past,” he said. “It’s very difficult for a small-town, independent hospital to provide the sophisticated level of medical service that all people now demand, expect, and deserve.”

The non-profit Grove City Medical Center was formed four decades ago by the merger of Grove City Hospital and Bashline Memorial Hospital, and it is the last independent hospital in Mercer County. Sharon Regional Medical Center is owned by the for-profit Steward Health Care, and UPMC Horizon has hospitals in Farrell and Greenville.

$30 million will be taken from the hospital’s reserve fund, which Bonner said has been building during the hospital’s 40-year history, and allocated locally on health and wellness initiatives.

He said a local board, made up mostly of GCMC board members, will determine how those funds are distributed. AHN will contribute an additional $40 million over the next 10 years to further enhance the medical center’s existing clinical programs, technological capabilities, physical infrastructure and physician recruitment.

Bonner said the partnership will put GCMC on par with care offered at hospitals in the largest urban areas of the country. But Dr. Tony Farah, chief medical officer and clinical transformation officer for Highmark Health, said he expects GCMC’s services to exceed even those offered in some of the most cutting edge facilities.

“There is a lot of great care that isn’t available yet,” Farah said. “And that’s what we are going to bring to this community.”

During the courtship phase between the two institutions, Bonner said AHN recognized the strengths of the community and hospital right away. He mentioned Grove City College, the city’s local government and a dedicated workforce as major selling points.

“This is a great community with a lot of pride in what we do here,” he said.

Farah promised to continue to uphold GCMC values, including an emphasis on patient-centered care.

“We put ourselves in the shoes of the patient,” he said. “It’s patient care and it’s access — 24-7 access. I personally made that commitment to Mr. Bonner.”

Some of the new technologies AHN can provide include T-cell cancer therapy, in which cells are re-engineered to attack cancer cells; a heart transplant program ranked seventh in the country and first in Pennsylvania; and deep transcanial magnetic stimulation, a procedure used to stimulate the brain and reduce symptoms of depression.

“This will assure the residents in our area will have the highest rated, technologically advanced and most patient-centered health care in the country,” Jackson said.

Bonner said the merger is awaiting approval from the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office and Mercer County Orphans Court before the transition becomes official. He said expects final approval to come before the end of the year.

Among those on hand to show support for the merger Monday were U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly of Butler, R-16th; state Rep. Tedd Nesbit, R-Grove City; Grove City Mayor Randy Riddle; Pine Township supervisors Chairman Richard Stachel; and Mercer County Commissioner Tim McGonigle.

“It is so important for this jointure to take place,” Kelly said. “This is a huge gain for the area, but more importantly, this is a huge gain for the people who live here.”

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