NEW CASTLE Sale of St. Francis raises concerns about the level of local health care

St. Francis employees say they haven't been told what the future will hold.
NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- When Ethel Hogue needs medical care, she usually goes to St. Francis Hospital.
Now that the hospital is being sold to competitor Jameson Health System, Hogue is concerned about her level of care.
"You don't seem to have to wait as long when you go into St. Francis," said the Slippery Rock Township woman.
Jameson officials announced the sale Monday, which includes $21 million from Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield to help pay off the hospital's debts and for the transition.
Thomas White, Jameson chief executive officer, said St. Francis' south side facility will remain open, but they are still working on what type of services will be offered.
Jameson and St. Francis, only a few miles apart, have been longtime competitors.
Katie Dando of Edinburg said she hopes St. Francis doesn't lose its small hospital feel.
"At Jameson I've always felt like a number, but at St. Francis, they know your name," she said.
A plan outlining how services will be offered should be made public by October and will be implemented over the next year, White said.
No decisions have been made about employee cutbacks, but Pam Brown and Toni Gilmore, nutrition care assistants, fear the sale will mean they will lose their jobs.
Both are employees of a professional dietary company that contracts with St. Francis Hospital.
"We don't like it. We're probably going to get laid off," said Gilmore ,who has worked at the hospital three years.
No official word yet
Brown, who has worked at St. Francis five years, said they hadn't received any official word from their employer about the sale or their job status.
Carol Mastropietro, a charge nurse in St. Francis' rehabilitation department, said the sale wasn't unexpected. St. Francis Health System's financial woes have been well publicized over the last few years and talk of merging with other health systems have been heard before.
Mastropietro said the staff hasn't been told anything yet, but she's not concerned about her job.
"There's a nursing shortage right now," she said. "We'll just have to wait and see what happens."
Others hope the $18 million sale will mean growth for New Castle.
"I think it's going to open up opportunities for employment and it may be a growing experience," said Kathy Beltz of Edinburg.
Mayor Timothy Fulkerson said his main concern is employment.
"I hope the only job loss there is through attrition and buyouts," he said. "I'm also hoping the people of this city understand this is not something done in malice, but done out of good financial beliefs."
Fulkerson noted that he hopes the new health system structure will continue the St. Francis tradition of providing health care to those unable to pay for it.

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