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Where Did The Backhoes Go? Hospital Project Apparently Stalled For Months

June 2, 2019 GMT

DICKSON CITY — When crews and heavy equipment disappeared from the most anticipated construction project in Dickson City early this year, it left many scratching their heads. Beyond the fact that they had little explanation, borough officials were quick to point out two heaps of topsoil abandoned on either side of the Coordinated Health Scranton Hospital construction site as a potential hazard. “The problem I had … with them is they did not get back to us when I tried to contact them,” borough planning commission Chairman Mike Fedorka said. “They left the site. No one was contacted. It wasn’t stabilized.” A health system spokesman acknowledged communication between contractors, the health system and borough officials could have been better. “When there are delays, certainly there can be frustration,” said Coordinated Health spokesman Ron Ticho. “It’s really important for us to have a good work relationship with the planning commission, and we need to do a better job.” Crews were pulled to finish up a clinic in Hazleton, which just started seeing patients last week, he said. Work on the Dickson City project is likely to pick up again toward the end of June. “We’re really excited to resume,” Ticho said. “We look forward to working with (borough officials) as we finish this project.” The work stoppage comes amid a few notable blows for the small health system’s public image and its bottom line. In December, Coordinated and its founder and chief executive, Dr. Emil DiIorio, settled claims with the U.S. Department of Justice that the health system overbilled Medicare and other federal health care programs in a complex scheme between 2007 and 2014. Coordinated paid the health and human services department $11.25 million. On his own, DiIorio paid $1.25 million. Neither Coordinated nor the doctor admitted guilt, per the settlement. U.S. attorneys in Pennsylvania’s eastern district alleged DiIorio used a billing code modifier to break out specific procedures, ones that should have been bundled under a global reimbursement for surgery, in order to bill the government separately. The justice department claims health system executives twice were notified that they were improperly unbundling billing codes but didn’t change practices resulting in the federal government overpaying by millions of dollars. Meanwhile, Coordinated has pledged to disrupt the current health care market with an alternative to larger health systems and likewise, it’s feeling their scorn. Last year, Geisinger Health Plan booted Coordinated doctors from its network putting thousands of patients, and the revenue they bring, out of reach from their doctors. To ease the transition, Coordinated offered to match in-network rates and absorbed the difference, but that arrangement expired at the beginning of the year. For-profit health systems in general are struggling amid stiffer regulations and mounting pressure to keep costs low. In light of that, in March, Coordinated officials told The Morning Call newspaper in Allentown that it was cutting spending by 15% and laying off employees across its system, in spite of an aggressive expansion plan. “We have implemented significant cost saving measures as part of our ongoing effort to generate efficiencies while continuing to deliver the highest quality of care for our patients,” Ticho said. “This has led to stronger financial performance, especially over the past few months.” But those circumstances triggered doubt and speculation among some in Dickson City, and it all gurgled up last week when stormwater pushed past temporary erosion barriers on the site that were never meant to handle so much rain. At least one neighboring property was flooded, and on Wednesday, borough crews used a backhoe to clear mud and sediment from a clogged storm drain on the north end of the site. The Lackawanna County Conservation District issued the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, or NPDES, permit for the project. The federal program in part regulates how builders control erosion, sediment and stormwater. The conservation district contracts for the state Department of Environmental Protection in issuing and monitoring some permits in the county. Conservation district officials inspected the site Thursday and found issues, manager Jerry Stiles said, though he couldn’t immediately say whether the agency would take action. The conservation district can tell the company to fix the problems, but has to turn any enforcement duties over to the state Department of Environmental Protection. Coordinated has conditional plan approval with the borough, Fedorka said. For one, builders can’t pour concrete footers until the health system has its state health department license in hand. Fedorka still hasn’t seen it yet. He was an early apologist for the hospital, and said he still believes it means good things for Dickson City. He just wants some answers. “They still have comments that they need to address,” he said. “They’re not going to move forward without anything coming to me.” Contact the writer: joconnell@timesshamrock.com; 570-348-9131; @jon_oc on Twitter