Well, it was long overdue, but we are grateful that LNP (Lancaster Newspapers) on Sunday past covered at some length the forthcoming merger of Lancaster General Health into University of Pennsylvania Health System and editorialized about its findings on Tuesday.
We were out of town on Tuesday and only discovered the article on Friday.
The editorial heading poses exactly the right question: “What’s in the LGH merger for this county?”
The article elaborates: “Just what are the terms of this merger, and what commitments are LG Health demanding of Penn to serve Lancaster County?”
It points out “LG Health’s annual operating revenue last year was about $1 billion. Its total surplus for fiscal year 2014 was $148 million, up from $100.7 million the previous year, according to auditor Grant Thornton LLP. No wonder it was so attractive to Penn Medicine.”
It continues: “Some transparency seems called for here, given the huge swaths of tax-exempt land LG Health occupies in Lancaster County.”
This understates the issue. It isn’t only that LGH occupies huge swaths of tax-exempt land, nor that LGH earnings are tax exempt as a 501(c)3 public charity, although both are reason enough.
As a public charity foundation, LGH is owned by the Lancaster public. Earning of $150 million a year makes it worth almost $2 billion dollars. Of course the public should have a big say as to whether our greatest repository of wealth should be shipped off to Philadelphia.
According to the article, “LG Health’s trustees must take steps to ensure that the organization’s extraordinary fiscal strength continues to benefit the wellspring of that fiscal strength: this community.”
In fact, LGH has long been guilty of depriving worthy local health related causes of a share of its earnings. Historically LGH donates about two to three million dollars out of over a hundred million in earnings to local charities, a tiny 2% to 3%. It should be at least 15% which would leave ample funds for providing for future needs.
LGH profits are in large part due to its monopolistic dominance of health care in the county. They can demand higher prices from insurers who in turn require higher premiums from employers and subscribers. Because LGH administration and trustees act in secrecy, the public has little knowledge of how LGH’s vast profits are being spent and who directly and indirectly are benefitting.
The public is not permitted at committee and board meetings; the supposedly open annual meeting does not allow public comment. The scant information available comes from the federally required annual 990 reports.
LGH’s trustees should make the case to the public for any merger and, if so, why it should be with Penn. Why not John Hopkins, Jefferson or possibly Geisinger to name a few obvious candidates?
We ask LNP to join us in requesting that merger talks be put on hold and to requests public forums be held around the county where questions can be posed and answers required.
Lastly, LNP should urge that a knowledgeable, reputable and independent authority by engaged to perform a study of the wisdom of what is being contemplated and that its entire text be made available to the public.
On behalf of our generation and our children’s, it is time for protests in front of LGH. If someone will set the day and time, we will be there.