On Jan. 31, 1891, Cottage State Hospital received its first patient. In its 130th year, Highlands Hospital continues to evolve and serve the health needs of the Connellsville community, officials said Friday. “We welcome everyone to this community celebration, celebrating our proud past and looking forward to a promising future,” said John S. Andursky, Highlands CEO.
Andursky said Highlands strives to make the community healthier. Through those efforts, the hospital works with communities and neighbors. He thanked everyone who supports the hospital and said he and the Highlands community is looking to the future.
The celebration included proclamations from federal, state and local officials. “One hundred and thirty years ago was the formation of this hospital on this donated land,” state Sen. Patrick Stefano (R-32) said. “Think what that meant then and what it means now.” Stefano said Highlands has stood the test of time. “And we are all going to make sure this hospital is still here another 130 years,” he said. “No community that is growing, especially ours, can exist without a good healthcare system. “And that’s what we have here with Highlands Hospital.”
Connellsville Councilwoman Melissa Tzan presented a proclamation on behalf of Mayor Greg Lincoln. Tzan noted the hospital’s history, beginning with its first patient in 1891. The hospital became Connellsville State General Hospital in 1927, and in 1985, went under private control through an agreement with Forbes Health System and was renamed Highlands. Under the agreement, a local board remained in place. For a brief period, the hospital entered into a partnership with Frick Hospital in Mt. Pleasant, and established the Fay-West Health System. In 2000, Highlands began to operate as an independent not-for-profit hospital. It is the second-largest employer in Connellsville, with approximately 400 staff members.
Fayette County commissioners Dave Lohr and Vince Vicites attended the celebration. Vicites noted the hospital is the 20th largest employer in the county. Lohr said he was born in the hospital. “This is a great time to recognize this achievement, for it is such a vital part of the community,” said Lohr, thanking Andursky for his leadership and the board for its commitment. “It is great to know you are still fighting in a time when it is tough. Thank you for your teamwork and your support for the community.” Michael Jordan Jr., Highlands Hospital board chairman, said the institution is one of only 19 community hospitals in Pennsylvania. “One hundred and thirty years is almost impossible to believe,” Jordan said. “It takes a lot to be a viable part of the community.” Jordan said the hospital has gone through many changes throughout those 130 years, noting the multiple affiliations. He said hospital administration and the board continually look for ways to help community and make changes to meet those needs.
Ten years ago, Highlands entered into a joint venture with the Cleveland Clinic to open an autism center in a small building on Breakneck Road. It began with about three students, a number that has grown to 47 students and is in the former Zachariah Connell Elementary School. The building is known as the Center for Health and Community Impact. “That vital service has grown,” Jordan said. The former school also houses a women’s health center, TMS program, toxicology lab and The Learning Lamp Center for Children. In addition, the hospital operates Connellsville MRI at Chat-A-Who-Chee Square in Bullskin Township. Highlands has expanded its behavioral health program with the addition of a third unit, he said. “The hospital is a vital part of this community,” Jordan said. “In addition to providing medical services, it provides an economic impact on the city and the county.” But to remain vital, it must continue to change. Jordan said one of the trustees’ goals is to work closely with the administration to enhance and expand its services.
He thanked the employees, administration, staff, hospital volunteer groups and the community “who have put forth and effort needed to continue to grow and provide health care services needed for the community and the surrounding areas.” The community turned out for the celebration. The Rev. Paul Sandusky offered opening and closing prayers, and Ron Shroyer sang the national anthem. George Crouse and Don Witt provided music on trumpets. Following the welcome ceremony, the community was invited to explore a fire truck and ambulance. The event included free hot dogs and activities for children. The Stork Club established a display featuring photos of people born at the hospital. The Flynn brothers — Shawn, Brent and Scott – the only triplets known to be born at the hospital attended the celebration.
SEPTEMBER 21, 2021 | BY ROXANNE ABRAMOWITZ