Conemaugh exploring its options

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Johnstown's Conemaugh Health System is formally exploring affiliation with other hospital networks, potentially setting up yet another merger in Western Pennsylvania's ever-changing health care landscape.

Conemaugh's request-for-proposals -- a solicitation to potential bidders or vendors -- was issued this month.

Amy Bradley, spokeswoman and marketing director for Conemaugh Health System, confirmed the news. "We're interested in talking to potential partners," she said. Conemaugh is "early in the process."

This request for potential hospital partners is separate from the "shared services agreement" Conemaugh reached with Somerset Hospital in October. That agreement is neither a merger nor acquisition, according to the two hospitals, but a pathway for the hospitals to eliminate some duplicative services and share some previously exclusive ones.

While this request-for-proposals is new, talk of Conemaugh's fate is not.

Conemaugh, which has three hospitals and about 600 total beds across its system, has been open about its exploration of "strategic partnerships," and has been the subject of takeover rumors for months -- as is the case with nearly every independent hospital in the region.

This summer, UPMC took over Altoona Regional Health System, which is to the north of Conemaugh, while Highmark has acquired controlling stakes in Jefferson Regional Medical Center and Erie's Saint Vincent Health System in the past year. Both of those hospitals are now part of Highmark's new Allegheny Health Network, which includes the hospitals and physicians of the West Penn Allegheny Health System.

Neither Allegheny Health Network nor UPMC would acknowledge receipt of the request-for-proposals. Often, such requests include nondisclosure agreements, forbidding potential bidders from discussing the solicitation.

Bill Toland: or 412-263-2625.

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