PA Marcellus Health Impact Study Finally Gets Funding

finally In August 2012, Geisinger Health System along with a second health system, Guthrie Health, announced they would jointly conduct the first ever study of the health impacts of Marcellus Shale drilling (see Health Care Systems Partner to Study Marcellus Impacts). They were later joined by a third organization: Susquehanna Health (see Third Group Joins Unfunded Marcellus Health Impact Study). Problem was, they didn’t have funding to begin the study (see Much-Ballyhooed Marcellus Health Impact Study Not Funded).

Six months later funding has finally arrived in the form of a $1 million grant from the Degenstein Foundation of Sunbury, PA. Geisinger Health announced the grant yesterday on their website:

The Degenstein Foundation has awarded Geisinger Health System a $1 million grant to assist in underwriting its study into the potential health impacts of Marcellus shale gas drilling. The collaborative study is the first large-scale, scientifically rigorous assessment of the health effects of natural gas production.

“The foundation board is always in search of innovative funding opportunities that have the potential to better the lives of the residents of the central Susquehanna Valley,” said Michael Apfelbaum, co-trustee of the Degenstein Foundation. “Geisinger’s research into the health impacts of natural gas drilling fits perfectly with our mission and we are proud to support this important initiative.”

“The landscape surrounding our neighbors is in a state of immense change,” added Jeffrey Apfelbaum, co-trustee of the Degenstein Foundation. “This project will make a difference in our region as we seek to better understand the shifts occurring around us.”

The majority of the funds from the grant will be used to underwrite growth of the necessary data-gathering infrastructure. Funds will also be utilized to help develop strategic studies of the data gathered. Additional institutional partners are anticipated to help fund this effort.

“The Degenstein Foundation’s support of this research project comes at a critical time for the residents of Pennsylvania who live in the Marcellus shale region,” said Glenn D. Steele Jr., M.D., Ph.D., president and chief executive officer at Geisinger Health System. “The establishment of reliable and valid data regarding the potential health impacts of Marcellus shale gas drilling is essential for informed policy decisions.”

Geisinger announced in 2012 plans to utilize its extensive electronic health record, along with the electronic health records of  Guthrie Health, of Sayre, Pa., and Susquehanna Health, of Williamsport, Pa., to investigate the potential health effects of Marcellus shale gas drilling. The study will look at detailed health histories of hundreds of thousands of patients who live near the Marcellus shale, a rock formation in which energy companies have already drilled about 5,000 natural gas wells.

Guthrie Health and Susquehanna Health will collaborate with Geisinger in the planning and execution of the study, including the development of a health surveillance network intended to capture, assess and report on the patient-level data secured by Geisinger, Guthrie and Susquehanna via electronic health record, and make this data available for research purposes. The goal is to create a cross-disciplinary, integrated, and sharable repository of data on environmental exposures, health outcomes, and community impacts of Marcellus shale drilling – the first systematic longitudinal study to do so. Some of the potential health effects that are likely to be investigated first include asthma, trauma and cardiovascular disease. Preliminary results of data analysis may be released within the next year, while other aspects of the research will unfold over five, 10 or 20 years.

About the Degenstein Foundation
The Degenstein Foundation was created by generosity of Charles B. Degenstein to improve the quality of life and to provide financial support to organizations with clear statements of purpose, well defined programs, and competent leadership. Special consideration is given to unique, innovative, and creative projects that benefit children, promote education, improve health care, encourage business, culture, conservation of nature resources, and protection of the environment. Sidney Apfelbaum is co-trustee of the Degenstein Foundation along with his sons, Michael and Jeffrey, as well as BNY Mellon Bank.

About Geisinger Health System
Geisinger Health System is an integrated health services organization widely recognized for its innovative use of the electronic health record, and the development of innovative care models such as ProvenHealth Navigator® and ProvenCare®. As the nation’s largest rural health services organization, Geisinger serves more than 2.6 million residents throughout 44 counties in central and northeastern Pennsylvania. The physician-led system is comprised of more than 17,000 employees, including a 900-member multi-specialty group practice, six hospital campuses, two research centers and a 290,000-member health plan, all of which leverage an estimated $5.5 billion positive impact on the Pennsylvania economy. The health system and the health plan have repeatedly garnered national accolades for integration, quality and service. In addition to fulfilling its patient care mission, Geisinger has a long-standing commitment to medical education, research and community service. For more information, visit  Geisinger. Follow the latest Geisinger news and more at Twitter and  Facebook.*

What’s interesting to MDN is that the Geisinger et al health study was recently named by New York State Health Commissioner Nirav Shah as one of three studies he and his assistants would visit on a quick road trip to try and determine what they could about the health effects of drilling ahead of signing off on a review of potential public health impacts drilling in New York may have (see Deadline for NY Fracking Regs Slips Again…Or Does It?). Geisinger hasn’t done anything yet, so far as we know, with their study. What, exactly, does Shah think he will learn by speaking with them?

We welcome a truly “scientifically rigorous assessment” of drilling’s health effects and sincerely hope that Geisinger et al’s work will be free from anti-drilling bias. Let’s let the facts speak and not a distorted worldview.

*Geisinger Health System (Feb 18, 2013) – Degenstein Foundation invests $1 million in Geisinger research project