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Experts: Branding, strategy likely drove home health split for UPMC, LG Health and Tower

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The move last week by three regional health systems to split up a jointly owned home health care network probably has more to do with each system wanting to sharpen its own image rather than evidence of an emerging trend, according to observers who monitor the health care industry.

Consolidation remains a force in health care, so the unwinding of a shared venture may have more to with health systems wanting to maintain and promote their own identities, said Patrick Michael Plummer, professor of health administration at Penn State Harrisburg.

Lancaster General Health/Penn Medicine, UPMC Pinnacle and Tower Health said last week that, effective Jan. 1, they would end an agreement to jointly own and operate Affilia Home Health. Affilia offers a variety of home health care services throughout Central Pennsylvania, with offices in Harrisburg, Lancaster and Reading. 

"They probably want to sharpen the edge of their own brand differentiation," said Plummer, who noted that he did not know more about the announcement than was made public. "They probably want to eliminate things that will dilute their main messages."

Plummer said the larger trend playing out in Central Pennsylvania will be for health systems that have grown through consolidations and mergers to find ways to better compete. He noted that the three systems involved have "three separate, distinct identities" and that it will be important to show how they are unique, much like two politicians might work to show how they are different from each other. 

"I don’t think there is anything larger going on," Plummer said.

The health systems said that Lancaster General Health will keep the Affilia name for its home health care operations, while UPMC and Tower will rebrand theirs: UPMC Home Healthcare of Central Pennsylvania and Tower Health at Home.

David Sarcone, an associate professor of international business and management at Dickinson College, said any number of explanations might make sense, and he didn’t have any particular theory on why the health systems would make the change, when it appears counter to the overall consolidation trend in health care.

"Given the heightened level of competition, there may simply be concerns about sharing individual system strategies incorporating home health services," he said in an email.

On its website, Affilia Home Health lists its core services as at-home nursing care; rehabilitation therapy; medical social work; and telehealth monitoring, which allows nurses to monitor patients remotely. The company said no jobs would be lost in the transition. In all, about 223 people work in Affilia's three offices.

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