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By Jeff Horvath, The Times-Tribune

Geisinger Community Medical Center’s plans to be back in the business of delivering babies by 2019 create competition for Moses Taylor Hospital and will test whether the Scranton regional market can sustain two birthing facilities.

The health system announced plans Sept. 12 to build a new $15 million maternity center at GCMC, including seven labor and delivery suites to start and 11 postpartum recovery rooms to come later. It marks the first time since 2007 that a hospital other than Moses Taylor, a Commonwealth Health hospital, provided such services in the Electric City. Community Medical Center shuttered its maternity ward in 2007, five years before Geisinger acquired it in 2012.

While Moses Taylor has cornered the Scranton market on obstetrics for the past decade, experts believe the new competition will lead to continued improvements at both health systems.

“We make each other better,” said Justin Matus, Ph.D., a business professor at Wilkes University who serves on the board of Wilkes-Barre General Hospital, another Commonwealth Health facility. “By having that competition ... both parties have to work really hard to stay current and improve. The basis for competing is either on price or on quality, and I think when it comes to health care people are obviously less price sensitive than they are on quality.”

In a statement issued the same day as GCMC’s announcement, Commonwealth Health spokeswoman Renita Fennick noted that Moses Taylor is the first hospital in the nation to earn the Joint Commission’s Gold Seal of Approval for Perinatal Care, offers a Level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and benefited from a more than $2 million investment into facility upgrades to the obstetrics service line over the past few years.

For Geisinger, the new GCMC maternity ward is one part of a larger effort to provide a range of women’s health services locally, including the first midwifery program offered by a hospital in Scranton and a host of other outpatient services.

Gloria Gerrity, vice president of Geisinger’s Women’s and Children’s Institute, agreed that competition drives health systems to do better. It also provides potential patients with more options, she said.

She believes Geisinger’s push to provide robust women’s health initiatives locally will introduce new options and draw patients from other markets, allowing Scranton to sustain two birthing hospitals.

“You’re not just pulling from the Scranton market,” she said. “Most women want to be able to deliver their babies locally, so obviously Scranton is a good spot and we’ll be able to pull and have some of that competition. But I think, as our presence becomes more known, it’s going to be reaching out much more (broadly) than just Scranton itself.”

As they bolster services and quality of care, both Geisinger and Commonwealth will likely draw more patients away from health systems in even larger markets, including in the area of obstetrics, Matus said.

“I think in some ways there’s probably a certain amount of unmet demand across the geographic area,” he said. “(Both) centers, because of their improved quality ... (are) going to pull in more complicated OB cases that maybe 10 (or) 15 years ago might have been farmed out to markets like Philadelphia or New York.”

Matus also believes the demand will be enough to sustain two birthing hospitals.

“It’s kind of like when they add two or three lanes to the highway,” he said. “What happens? The highway fills up with more cars. You build capacity and the demand

will come, and I think you will continue to see that.”