The Boards of Directors of both Highlands Hospital and Penn Highlands Healthcare have signed a Definitive Agreement between the two entities that would integrate Highlands Hospital into the Penn Highlands Healthcare system.
The Highlands Hospital Board of Directors determined that Penn Highlands Healthcare would be a perfect long-term partner due to their experience of sustaining and growing hospitals in rural and smaller communities like Connellsville in Fayette County.
Penn Highlands Healthcare is one of the fastest growing health systems in the state now operating seven hospitals and more than 150 clinics and office locations throughout Northwestern/Central and Southwestern Pennsylvania.
“This is an exciting time for Highlands Hospital and the community,” said Michael A. Jordan Jr., Board President of Highlands Hospital Board of Directors. “Highlands Hospital has been serving the community for 130 years and, with the support of Penn Highlands, we will continue to provide quality services and care to patients for many years to come.”
The affiliation with Penn Highlands Healthcare, anticipated to take effect in early 2022, is designed to strengthen the healthcare services provided by the Connellsville health care provider. The board’s key objectives that guided the search for a new partner included:
• Continue the spirit of the mission, vision and values of Highlands Hospital
• Maintain and expand key programs and services
• Attract and retain high-quality physicians, advanced practice providers and hospital staff
• Preserve jobs in Connellsville and provide competitive wages and benefits
• Provide the necessary capital investment to support growth of the services provided
• Maintain a meaningful role in local governance of the hospital
“Penn Highlands continues to grow our footprint into the southern part of the state,” said Robert A. Ordiway, Chairman of Penn Highlands Healthcare Board of Directors. “The affiliation with Highlands Hospital allows us to extend our mission to further provide exceptional care to communities across the Commonwealth.”
“Both organizations share similar missions and values,” added John Andursky, Highlands Hospital President and CEO. “We look forward with this opportunity to grow Highlands Hospital’s services and continue to provide quality care to our community and patients.”
“Penn Highlands Healthcare continues its growth by adding new hospitals, skilled nursing facilities and physician practices,” said Steve Fontaine, CEO of Penn Highlands Healthcare. “This affiliation with Highlands Hospital is another step to achieve our vision to be the integrated health system of choice.”
The signing of the definitive agreement means that Highlands Hospital and Penn Highlands Healthcare have agreed to the terms and conditions of a prospective affiliation. Throughout the next several months, both parties will engage in additional due diligence, research and discussions to facilitate a smooth integration of Highlands Hospital into Penn Highlands Healthcare once regulatory approval of the affiliation is secured.
Image above shows from left to right: John S. Andursky, President & Chief Executive Officer, Highlands Hospital, Steven M. Fontaine, Chief Executive Officer, Penn Highlands Healthcare, Michael A. Jordan, Jr., Chairman of Highlands Hospital Board of Trustees, and Robert Ordiway, Chairman of Penn Highlands Healthcare Board.
About Highlands Hospital
Highlands Hospital began as Cottage State Hospital. 130 years later Highlands Hospital provides patient centered quality care as a non-profit general acute care hospital located in the picturesque Laurel Highlands of Southwestern Pennsylvania offering emergent, inpatient, behavioral and ambulatory care to the region and beyond. Residents are given tools for life-long health at the John P. Murtha Wellness Center. Highlands Hospital in affiliation with Cleveland Clinic Children’s Center for Autism helps to provide families with state-of-the art educational and behavioral treatment. Highlands Hospital has proudly served the Behavioral Health needs of the community for over 35 years and has adopted a holistic approach to healing for the mind, body and soul of all patients.
About Penn Highlands Healthcare
Penn Highlands Healthcare was officially formed on September 30, 2011, and is comprised of seven hospitals – Penn Highlands Brookville, Penn Highlands Clearfield, Penn Highlands DuBois, Penn Highlands Elk, Penn Highlands Huntingdon, Penn Highlands Mon Valley and Penn Highlands Tyrone that have served area communities for the past 100+ years. Its business continuum also includes two care agencies, Penn Highlands Community Nurses and Helpmates, Inc.; two long-term care facilities, Pinecrest Manor and Penn Highlands Jefferson Manor; and a senior residential living facility, Elco Glen.
Through this partnership, Penn Highlands Healthcare has evolved into an organization with approximately 5,600+ workers in 150+ locations throughout 39 counties in Northwestern/Central and Southwestern Pennsylvania that include community medical buildings, outpatient facilities, surgery centers and physician practices. Providing exceptional quality care to the region, it has 740 physicians and 374 advanced practice providers on staff. The facilities have a total of 1,200 inpatient, skilled nursing and personal care beds. The system offers a wide range of care and treatments with specialty units that care for cancer, cardiovascular/thoracic, neurosurgery, pulmonology, neonatal and high-risk pregnancy patients. Being focused on what is important – patients and families – makes Penn Highlands Healthcare the best choice in the region.
Penn Highlands Healthcare
For release: Monday, December 13, 2021
Contact: Dave Trudell, (814) 375-4099 (Penn Highlands Healthcare)
Vicki Meier, (814) 341-8132 (Highlands Hospital)
Special thanks to John and Diane Carom for putting together the 3rd annual Evan’s Destination Day Camp 5k Walk Run. Donors and sponsors were again so very generous with their giving. All proceeds benefit the students at the Highlands Hospital Regional Center/School for Autism. EDDC was originated by John and Diane Carom in loving memory of their son, Evan. He loved working with kids with autism at a summer camp. His legacy continues as walkers, runners and volunteers came out on a beautiful day to raise funds to help our students experience educational, recreational, and social activities to further develop their life skills as they prepare to out into the world beyond school. Thank you everyone! Our kids are experiencing memorable programs thanks to all of you! If you were unable to attend, but would still like to donate, please click on the donate link as it will direct you to EDDC Walk/Run. Thanks again.
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
Let me begin with a caveat. In this article there will be a proposed “beginning of a solution” that you’re going to read about but it is not in place yet. This article is a solicitation to help our elected officials know how much and why we need their support to make this happen. We need everyone to help make it a reality.
Many of us have been touched by the challenges presented from the COVID-19 epidemic, but it has wreaked special havoc on those with behavioral health challenges. Jena Hausmann, CEO of Children’s Hospital Aurora, Colorado, said in a recent article in Becker’s Hospital Review that her pediatric emergency and inpatient units are being “overrun with kids attempting suicide and suffering from other forms of major mental health illness.”There has been an increase of 90 percent in demand for behavioral health treatment.
Because of stress, isolation, and family challenges what might have been low-level anxiety and depression has become suicide attempts. When a poor diet, inactivity, lack of sleep, and challenging family relationships enter the picture, life can become too much to handle.
There are no easy fixes for this, but we are backing an opportunity to at least begin to address the issues before they become more serious.
In the United States, we depend on the police to respond to mental health emergencies. This requires an enormous amount of resources and can often result in a negative outcome for the victim and for the police. For example, in 2017, over 20% of police staff time was consumed responding to individuals with mental illness. The most disconcerting statistic is that people with mental illness that has not been treated are over 15 times more likely to be killed during police encounters with other citizens.
In 2020, Congress passed legislation that would create an easily remembered phone number that can be used for a mental health emergency, a three-digit mental health crisis line, 988 which is an easily remembered alternative number to 911. The problem is one that we are all too familiar with, funding. Every State needs to pass the necessary legislation to help ensure that a fully-funded crisis response system supporting 988 will be in place and operable.
This system would include call centers available 24/7, mobile response teams, and crisis stabilization services that connect patients to care.
The actual system will become available nationwide by July 2022, but this system will not be functional in Pennsylvania without your help. Advocates like you are needed to call or write your representatives to encourage them to enact this supportive legislation. It can’t and won’t happen without you.
Highlands Hospital is a well-recognized center for behavioral health treatment, but this effort to put a functional State-wide system in place takes more than the encouragement of one healthcare organization. It takes you, the public, to let your elected representatives know how important connectivity to 988 could be for you and your family, your friends, and your friends friends.
This is about saving lives, preventing broken hearts, and helping not only our caregivers but also our police. Please reach out to your elected official and ask them to support 988.
By Nick Jacobs, July 1, 2021
Nick Jacobs is a partner with Senior Management Resources, LLC, a senior leadership healthcare consulting firm. He is a co-founder of the Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine, former board member of the Integrative Health Policy Consortium. He was a former hospital CEO, founder of two genetic research institutes, and a Trustee at Southern California University of Health Sciences.
Highlands Hospital pharmacist Matt Mascia is thankful for all the volunteers who have come out to help at the recent COVID-19 vaccination clinics.
“It takes a community,” Mascia said Wednesday as he glanced around the Connellsville Township Volunteer Fire Department hall, where Highlands was sponsoring yet another clinic.
Mascia said 1,150 first doses of the Pfizer vaccine were expected to be administered Wednesday.
Volunteers came from various groups, including local physicians, nurses, hospital staff members, physician assistants and more.
A group of ladies from the St. Aloysius Rosary Altar Society was on hand to help with registration.
Tammy Nedrow, administrative assistant for Fayette County Commissioner Scott Dunn, said the ladies will also help arrange appointments for people listed on the Fayette County COVID-19 Task Force registry for Highlands’ next first-dose clinic in April.
Volunteers are essential to the operation, Mascia and Nedrow indicated.
Mascia said anyone willing and qualified to administer injections should call the hospital.
Nedrow encouraged organizations willing to volunteer for the process to call her at 724-430-1200, ext. 1610 or contact Muriel Nuttal at the Fayette County Chamber of Commerce.
Nedrow and Mascia said clinics have been supported by community members as well such organizations as the fire department, which provided its hall for clinic use, and such businesses as Clubhouse Pizza and Amedisys, which provided lunch and refreshments for volunteers.
“Everyone is coming together,” Mascia said.
Mascia said without the volunteer assistance, Highlands would be lucky to administer 500 shots.
“That might be once a week, and that would be very taxing for us to pull together,” he said. “It’s a lot of manpower, from scheduling calls and then running the clinic itself.”
In addition to the clinic work on site, every shot administered requires Highlands to input consent information into the Pennsylvania system within 24 hours, Mascia said.
That job is handled by Highlands employees.
“It’s difficult because we are small, and we are staffed just to do our normal jobs and none of this is normal,” he said of the clinic responsibilities. “That’s why we rely on the volunteers. We can only pull so many people from the hospital without crippling the hospital.
“But at the end of day, we feel we have a duty to help the community in any way we can. These people are our family and our neighbors. We will keep plugging our way through.”
Mascia said not all vaccinations had been scheduled for Wednesday’s clinic, so it was opened up to 450 walk-ins in the 1A designation. Those spots went quickly.
Wednesday’s first-dose clinic was the fourth for the hospital. Two were at Connellsville Area Senior High School and a third at the Masonic Lodge in Bullskin Township.
Mascia said vaccinations were also administered in-house.
It has been a learning experience and one that has occupied much time for Mascia and other hospital staff members.
“Sometimes, there’s just not enough hours in the week. It’s a very large undertaking,” said the pharmacist, who is lead planner for the hospital’s clinics. “And I’ve learned to expect the unexpected.”
Highlands draws its appointments from the Fayette County COVID-19 Task Force registry, which was established to provide a database for those conducting clinics. And it worked.
But with residents adding their names to more than one list and vaccination providers ramping up distribution, Fayette task force schedulers are having to make twice as many phone calls.
While that’s good because it means people are being vaccinated and leaving the county list, Mascia said it does make scheduling and planning more difficult.
Mascia said the state would like all those in the 1A category to be scheduled for vaccinations by month’s end, although it is not a mandate.
Mascia said anyone in 1A who is not on the registry and wants to be vaccinated should add their names to the list. Those in the B phase are also encouraged to register.
The county is exhausting its list, which is good, Mascia said.
He said as of yesterday about 3,000 names remained on the list.
“Uniontown is doing 3,000 shots next week,” he said of WVU Medicine Uniontown Hospital. “They will probably clean out the list.”
The state wants to start the vaccination process for those in Phase 1B at the same time. Mascia believes that might be soon.
The Highlands pharmacist said with three vaccines available now, some people might be trying to pick the one they want.
“Some people want Johnson & Johnson because it’s a one shot,” Mascia said. “Some people don’t want it because of religious reasons. Some people only want Pfizer because of the studies.
“ … But, my advice, the first vaccine you are offered should be the one you try to get unless you have a real reason not to. All are proven effective and evaluated by the FDA.”
BY ROXANNE ABRAMOWITZ | THE DAILY COURIER
Many Fayette County residents have been anxiously awaiting an appointment to receive their COVID-19 vaccines. Over the next few days, that number should drop by more than a thousand in the Bullskin Township area, thanks to a clinic held by Highlands Hospital at the Pleasant Valley Masonic Center.
The clinic began Wednesday and will run through Friday, with Highlands Hospital Pharmacy Director Matthew Mascia aiming to vaccinate upwards of 400 people on each of those days.
“This (clinic) was basically an extension of the work we’re doing with the (Fayette County) task force,” Mascia said. “As we get the shots, we’re going to be planning them week by week. We knew there were a lot of people in this direction.”
Mascia said Highlands Hospital pulled names from the county registry to schedule patients for the clinics.
“We scheduled from 9 (a.m.) to 2:45 or 3 (p.m.) today,” he said. “It’s appointment only, and it’s pretty much the same, on a smaller scale, as the set-up on Saturdays that we’ve been doing. Our goal was to do just under 400 in a day. We’re just trying to break up a lot into three days.”
The clinic is giving the Pfizer vaccine.
“We have the ability to store it,” Mascia said. “Other places don’t. If I take the Moderna, I take away from another location’s providers.”
Mascia said scheduling the appointments turned out to be a little bit tricky.
“We’re doing a good job as a community getting people the vaccine,” he said. “We’re finding that a bunch of people on that list have already been vaccinated. That’s a good sign, but it’s a bad thing, too.”
Mascia said Highlands Hospital has been focused on making the vaccination process as quick and uncomplicated as possible. When patients arrive for their appointments, they filled out consent forms and emergency authorizations and received a card that, in part, served as a reminder of when the second dose of the vaccine is due. From there, they moved to one of several vaccination stations, where a staff of volunteer nurses and nurse practitioners administered the shots. Then, each patient was asked to wait from 15 to 30 minutes to be sure they didn’t suffer an adverse reaction.
Members of local emergency services were on hand in case of any bad reactions or other medical needs.
“We have had quite a positive turnout of everyone,” Mascia said. “Fayette EMS and Mutual Aid are sending crews to come support us.”
In addition, he said, volunteers from the Masonic Center turned out to help, as well as hospital staff members, retired nurses, nurse practitioners, and just members of the community in general. Mascia called the volunteers an “absolutely crucial” part of the process.
“It really is a pretty diverse group,” he said.
Mascia said the vaccine clinics will continue, as long as shots are available.
“We’re going to try to do one or two thousand (people) a week, all depending on supply and what we can schedule,” he said.
BY JAMIE RANKIN | THE DAILY COURIER
Matt Mascia, Highlands Hospital pharmacist, is making that request of people who have joined the Fayette County COVID-19 Task Force’s vaccination list.
Mascia, with help from many Highlands officials, employees and community volunteers, planned and conducted the hospital’s appointment only vaccination clinic Saturday at Connellsville Area High School.
Approximately 1,000 people were vaccinated, including Gary Ulery of Youngwood, who was “happy” to finally get it.
Mascia said most people vaccinated
Saturday were registered on the list compiled by the Fayette County COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force — along with a handful of Highlands employees.
Highlands distributed the Pfizer vaccine, and all recipients were in the Phase 1A category for distribution.
Those who received the vaccine over the weekend will return in 21 days (March 6) in their same scheduled time period for second doses, Mascia said.
Mascia chose the Pfizer vaccine because the hospital has the “ultra freeze” capacity needed for storage.
Highlands Hospital nurse Karen Parlak prepares a COVID-19 vaccination. Photo courtesy of Mike Parlak
Providers without that capability receive the Moderna vaccine, which doesn’t require the same low-temperature storage requirement.
Another appointment-only clinic is scheduled Saturday, and Mascia said calls will begin this week to set appointments.
Highlands is receiving help from others in arranging appointments, and he is encouraging people who receive calls from unfamiliar numbers to pick up, because it might be an opportunity to receive a vaccination.
Among those scheduling appointments will be staff members of state Sen. Pat Stefano and state reps. Ryan Warner and Matthew Dowling.
Mascia said about a thousand vaccinations will be administered at this week’s clinic.
“We are making a dent in the county list,” he said. He suggested it is the most effective path to a vaccination.
At last glance the list had topped 13,000 names.
COVID-19 vaccine recipients sit in the auxiliary gym at Connellsville Area High School after receiving their shots during the Highlands Hospital clinic. PHOTOS: Roxanne Abramowitz | The Daily Courier
Mascia said other vaccine clinics are being scheduled this week throughout the county by other facilities, including Uniontown Hospital.
He acknowledged the work of the task force and how coming together as a team is driving the process.
Mascia said without the help of Highlands employees and volunteers from local medical offices, Saturday’s clinic would not have run as smoothly.
“Everyone is working together. It’s all hands on deck,” he said. “I run a hospital pharmacy. I don’t do mass-event planning. But it was a community need and we found we could do this. We took the lead, and in a week, we did this.”
Connellsville Area School Board’s approval to use the high school made the process much easier logistically, Mascia said.
“The school district has just been great,” he said. “They have gone above and beyond in helping us.”
Mascia said Fayette officials recognize the public’s frustration and said the task force is working hard to make the vaccination process easier.
Highlands Hospital personnel, along with volunteers from other local medical offices, distribute COVID-19 vaccine at Connellsville Area Senior High School.
Creating a single list of names for local vaccine providers to access has helped to streamline the process.
Providers mark off names to ensure other providers are aware those people had been contacted.
“When they started the task force, they pulled the hospitals in and we were honest and vocal with what we could do,” Mascia said, recognizing the county’s goal of being pro-active with the vaccination process.
Mascia said that after Highlands’ two planned clinics and second-shot clinics have been concluded, the hospital will look at other distributions, but maybe not on the same scale.
In addition, future distribution depends on the amount of vaccine Highlands can obtain.
To register on the county list, go to www.fayettecountypa.org/795/Individual-Registration.
BY ROXANNE ABRAMOWITZ | DAILY COURIER
Fayette County Commissioner Scott Dunn looked on at the activity Saturday in the Connellsville Area High School auxiliary gym as volunteers and Highlands Hospital staff members administered COVID-19 vaccinations to more than 1,000 people.
“I can’t say enough about the effect Highlands Hospital has made” in the county’s goal to get shots in the arms of all residents seeking the vaccinations, Dunn said.
He thanked Highlands CEO John Andursky and Highlands pharmacist Matt Mascia for their efforts.
Dunn noted the efficiency level at the Highlands’ clinic.
Vaccine recipients quickly moved through the process, from signing in to receiving shots and to their 15-minute waits to ensure they experienced no negative reactions to the Pfizer vaccine.
“This is just great,” Andursky said, as he watched a steady flow of vaccine recipients.
Andursky said he was proud of the Highlands staff and community volunteers who, for the past two weeks, have contributed time to help make the process run smoothly.
Volunteer nurses prepare to administer COVID-19 vaccinations at Uniontown Mall on Saturday. Photo courtesy of Paula O’Connell
“The volunteers are doing a great job,” Andursky said “We have a great staff who steps up all the time.”
He recognized Mascia for pulling the clinics together and helping to make them a success. Mascia and Andursky acknowledged the help of Mickie Sandusky, Highlands infections preventionist.
Andursky said Highlands will explore the possibility of additional clinics, although they might not be on the same scale as the past two Saturday events.
Mascia said it will depend on availability of clinic sites and the number of doses the hospital can obtain.
He said the clinics were possible because of the volunteers, including hospital auxiliaries, retired hospital personnel, school teachers, retired teachers, school district volunteers, local physicians and their staffs and hospital volunteers — just to name a few.
“This is a little bit of everyone,” Mascia said, thanking all who helped.
Mascia and Andursky thanked the Connellsville Area School District, which provided a space large enough to keep the clinic organized and orderly.
Mascia said 1,110 recipients were scheduled for the Saturday clinic. The previous week, the hospital vaccinated more than 1,000 people.
Second doses will be distributed March 6 and 13. Recipients will retain their time slots from the first two clinics. Vaccinations are by appointment only. Walkups will not be accepted.
The names of Saturday recipients were drawn from the Fayette County COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force registry.
Dunn said that as of Saturday, 22,800 people had placed names on the registry. Once a name is on the list, providers schedule appointments as sites and vaccine become available.
On the first day the registry was up, more than 12,000 names were listed. Dunn said names from those first days are still being pulled.
“We still have a lot of work to do,” he said.
Dan O’Connell waits for the OK to get his first COVID-19 dose at Uniontown Mall on Saturday. Photo courtesy of Paula O’Connell
Dunn said the task force is working to get the word out about the list, especially to senior citizens. He is asking churches, organizations, senior centers and anyone who knows older citizens to help them get their names on the registry.
Anyone who has missed a telephone call for to arrange a vaccination appointment will remain on the list and get another call.
Dunn said many people and organizations are helping to “make this happen,” calling it a “massive undertaking.”
The commissioner said he watched Friday as West Virginia University representatives worked side-by-side with Penn State Fayette nursing students and University of Pittsburgh pharmacy students at the WVU Medicine Uniontown hospital clinic at the Uniontown Mall.
Dunn said he was thankful for cooperation seen throughout the community.
He acknowledged the dedication and work by task force members: Fayette County Emergency Management Agency, Fayette EMS, WVU Medicine Uniontown and Highlands hospitals, commissioners, Fayette County Chamber of Commerce and Centerville Clinics.
He noted help from staff members of state Sen. Pat Stefano and state reps. Ryan Warner and Matt Dowling.
Dunn said clinics like those by Highlands and WVU Medicine Uniontown hospitals are helping to get names off the registry.
He said Fayette’s work is being recognized across the state.
A recent virtual meeting with County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania had people in the organization discussing Fayette’s vaccine-management plan.
Since the vaccines became available, more than 12,000 people have been vaccinated in Fayette County. That number includes those vaccinated through various programs such as those in nursing homes, Veterans Affairs events, pharmacy clinics, etc.
BY ROXANNE ABRAMOWITZ | DAILY COURIER
Armstrong Neighborhood Channel host of ‘Our Neighbors’, Chip Rowan, sits down with Highlands Hospital ER doctor, Abram Weimer, DO. Watch the video below.
Check out the creative Highlands Hospital Karaoke Video featuring Highlands staff.
Matt Mascia, Highlands Hospital pharmacist, is making that request of people who have joined the Fayette County COVID-19 Task Force’s vaccination list. Mascia, with help from many Highlands officials, employees and community volunteers, planned and conducted the hospital’s appointment-only vaccination clinic Saturday at Connellsville Area High School. Approximately 1,000 people were vaccinated, including Gary Ulery of Youngwood, who was “happy” to finally get it. Mascia said most people vaccinated Saturday were registered on the list compiled by the Fayette County COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force — along with a handful of Highlands employees.
Highlands distributed the Pfizer vaccine, and all recipients were in the Phase 1A category for distribution. Those who received the vaccine over the weekend will return in 21 days (March 6) in their same scheduled time period for second doses, Mascia said. Mascia chose the Pfizer vaccine because the hospital has the “ultra-freeze” capacity needed for storage. Providers without that capability receive the Moderna vaccine, which doesn’t require the same low-temperature storage requirement.
Another appointment-only clinic is scheduled Saturday, and Mascia said calls will begin this week to set appointments. Highlands is receiving help from others in arranging appointments, and he is encouraging people who receive calls from unfamiliar numbers to pick up, because it might be an opportunity to receive a vaccination. Among those scheduling appointments will be staff members of state Sen. Pat Stefano and state reps. Ryan Warner and Matthew Dowling.
Mascia said about a thousand vaccinations will be administered at this week’s clinic. “We are making a dent in the county list,” he said. He suggested it is the most effective path to a vaccination. At last glance the list had topped 13,000 names. Mascia said other vaccine clinics are being scheduled this week throughout the county by other facilities, including Uniontown Hospital.
He acknowledged the work of the task force and how coming together as a team is driving the process. Mascia said without the help of Highlands employees and volunteers from local medical offices, Saturday’s clinic would not have run as smoothly. “Everyone is working together. It’s all hands on deck,” he said. “I run a hospital pharmacy. I don’t do mass-event planning. But it was a community need and we found we could do this. We took the lead, and in a week, we did this.”
Connellsville Area School Board’s approval to use the high school made the process much easier logistically, Mascia said. “The school district has just been great,” he said. “They have gone above and beyond in helping us.” Mascia said Fayette officials recognize the public’s frustration and said the task force is working hard to make the vaccination process easier. Creating a single list of names for local vaccine providers to access has helped to streamline the process. Providers mark off names to ensure other providers are aware those people had been contacted. “When they started the task force, they pulled the hospitals in and we were honest and vocal with what we could do,” Mascia said, recognizing the county’s goal of being pro-active with the vaccination process.
Mascia said that after Highlands’ two planned clinics and second-shot clinics have been concluded, the hospital will look at other distributions, but maybe not on the same scale. In addition, future distribution depends on the amount of vaccine Highlands can obtain.
To register on the county list, go to www.fayettecountypa.org/795/Individual-Registration.
By ROXANNE ABRAMOWITZ
Highlands Hospital was one four facilities that was recently added as a participant in the Pennsylvania Rural Health Model.
Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said the model is aimed at ensuring the financial viability of hospitals in rural areas across Pennsylvania.“Rural hospitals are essential to the overall health of Pennsylvanians, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is an important initiative to ensure that everyone across the state has access to quality health care within a reasonable distance from home,” Levine said.
John Andursky, Highlands Hospital CEO, said “participation in the Pennsylvania Rural Health Model with (will) stabilize receipts from Medicare and other payers participating in the program. The program will also provide opportunities for sharing of cost savings recognized through implementation of our transformation goals established by management and approved by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation.” Andursky said Highlands is one of four hospitals participating in Cohort 3, Year 3, of the program.
Levine said the model helps ensure rural hospitals stay open, that jobs stay local and that sustainable access to health care is available to residents. The Rural Health Redesign Center Authority was established in May 2020 to lead continued development of the model, working in partnership with the federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation and the Pennsylvania Department of Health. There are now 17 hospitals and six payers in the program, Levine said. “The PARHM is projected to serve more than one million Pennsylvanians in rural communities in 2021 and will have approximately $725 million in net patient revenue in the global budget model,” said Gary Zegiestowsky, RHRCA executive director. The scale Pennsylvania has achieved with this model provides a solid base to drive transformative change for rural health care,” he said. “We are excited about the opportunity to grow the model further over the next year,” he added. “I would add our thanks to the hospitals and payers that have joined us in the journey to transform rural health care across the state. This program is truly about coming together to serve rural Pennsylvania.”
In March 2019, the department announced the first five hospitals participating in the model and in December 2019, announced eight more. Many rural hospitals in Pennsylvania are operating with negative margins and are at risk of closure. The number of hospitals eligible for participation in the model is 65 based on the definition of a rural hospital developed by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania.
The Department of Health has developed three main strategies for improving health in rural communities including transforming health care delivery in rural communities; improving population health status in rural communities; and creating health care services that match the needs of the community.
DECEMBER 26, 2020
THE DAILY COURIER
“It’s a sign that maybe we will be seeing a beginning to an end.” That was John Andursky’s thought as the Highlands Hospital CEO and president waited Tuesday to receive one of the first doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine administered at the Connellsville health care facility. Andursky sat in the Highlands cafeteria, where Mickie Sandusky, registered nurse and infections preventionist, gave him the first of two vaccinations.
In 21 days, Andursky and all those who received initial doses will receive a second round of the vaccine. After the second round is administered, it will take seven to 10 days to take full effect.Andursky was joined by more than a dozen others on Tuesday who received the vaccination. Sandusky said others are scheduled to be vaccinated Thursday and next week.
Highlands received 975 doses of the vaccine. It is being given to hospital employees. The hospital extended invitations to Fayette EMS and Mutual Aid staff members to receive vaccinations. Highlands was one of 22 additional hospitals across the state to receive a total of 30,255 Pfizer doses. That brings the total to 109 hospitals across the state to receive the vaccine. Last week, Excela Health and Uniontown Hospital received doses.
Sandusky said the hospital will receive the second dose that is to be given in another distribution. Employees are not required to receive the vaccine, Sandusky said. She said for the hospital to receive the vaccine, it had to confirm it could store the vaccine safely. Highlands is equipped with the freezer that meets ultra-low temperature storage requirements needed for the Pfizer vaccine. Highlands’ pharmacist Matt Mascia and registered nurse Katie Dillinger helped to administer the vaccines Tuesday. Dillinger said distribution of the vaccine has brought hope. Highlands lab staffer Tammy Guth, one of the first employees to receive the vaccine, said it was exciting, adding it could mean the pandemic will start turning the corner.
On Monday, state Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine will be available to at least 51 hospitals in the state this week. “These first doses of vaccine are being given specifically to health care workers through hospitals,” Levine said in a press release. “Hospitals are making arrangements to implement these vaccinations, not only to their own frontline staff but to other high-priority recipients. “The number of people we can immunize truly depends on how quickly the manufacturers can make the vaccine.”
Pfizer’s vaccine received emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Dec. 11, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices approved its use Dec. 13. The vaccine will be available in three phases. Because of limited supplies, the first phase is expected to take several months. Initial administration of doses will go to health care workers and residents and staff at long-term care facilities. The second phase will include essential workers who cannot work remotely and must work in proximity to others. The third phase is vaccinating people of any age not previously vaccinated.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health reported as of 12 a.m. Tuesday there were 7,962 additional positive cases of COVID-19, bringing the statewide total to 571,551. There are 6,090 individuals hospitalized with COVID-19, double the peak in the spring. Of that number, 1,217 patients were in intensive care units.
DECEMBER 23, 2020
Like most Fay-West businesses, COVID-19 has impacted Highlands Hospital in 2020. That was the word from John Andursky, president and chief executive officer, during Monday’s annual public meeting. The meeting is usually conducted in April, Andursky said, but because of safety restrictions was canceled. Monday’s meeting was at the Connellsville Canteen where social distancing was in place and masks worn.
Andursky said because of COVID-19, some hospital services were put on hold, causing financial losses. “The coronavirus impacted every aspect of the hospital and the communities we serve,” he said. Andursky said the hospital industry is facing many challenges including increased cost of providing patient care, staffing challenges and cuts in Medicare- and Medicaid-reimbursement rates. Operating and total margins were negative, he said in his report. He said physician and nursing recruitment is a critical threat facing independent community hospitals like Highlands. Highlands Hospital employs 400 people and total staffing costs exceed $22 million.
Andursky thanked the community, which came together and helped the hospital staff since the pandemic hit. Many businesses and organizations brought food for staff members or helped in other ways. “This virus has been one of the greatest challenges we have faced in all facets of our lives,” Andursky said. Even through the pandemic, Highlands has continued to evolve, he said.
Among the positives:
In November, the Women’s Health Center opened. It offers comprehensive women’s health services including breast health, gynecology, nutritional counseling, behavioral health and holistic wellness. The center is in the lower level of the former Zachariah Connell Elementary School on Park Street. Dr. Howard Horne and nurse practitioner Ashley Peterman-Beener are seeing patients at the center.
The Highlands Hospital Foundation officially became a tax-exempt organization. Its mission is to build a bridge between the community and the hospital and to enhance the quality of healthy living, Andursky said.
Through the foundation board, several fundraisers were held including the 31st annual golf outing, which generated $29,000, and the inaugural Trivia Challenge, which netted $12,000. Proceeds from both events will go toward the planned adaptive playground for the Highlands Hospital Regional Center for Autism, Andursky said.
The hospital recently received a $100,000 grant from the Addison Foundation to provide veterans and family members with transcranial magnetic stimulation services, a noninvasive treatment for depression. Appointments can be scheduled through the Highlands Hospital Center for Health and Community Impact at the former Zach Connell school.
Andursky said Highlands Hospital Regional Center for Autism continues to grow. It serves 45 students and provides services to 10 school districts. He said staffing opportunities continue to increase.
A day care is scheduled to open on the top floor of the Center for Health and Community Impact in January. Renovations are under way. The Learning Lamp and Ignite Solutions facility will provide day care services to Highlands employees and the community.
Andursky recognized several new physicians, including Dr. Scott J. Jacobson, hospitalist; Dr. Abram Weimer, emergency department medical director; Dr. Tamara Price, primary care; Dr. George BouSamra, cardiologist; and two ophthalmologists, Dr. Patrick Danaher and Dr. Aaron Wang.
Andursky said Highlands has been approved as a training site for the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine to become a teaching hospital.
The hospital’s outpatient behavioral health department has added staff and provides telehealth services.
Andursky said Highlands is committed to the community and is essential to the community’s economic vitality. According to industry multipliers provided by the U.S. Department of Commerce, the hospital’s total economic benefit to the region’s economy is estimated at $63 million annually.
DECEMBER 03, 2020
Highlands Hospital recently announced that Dr. Scott Jacobson, M.D., is the new hospitalist, effective immediately.
Dr. Jacobson works closely with many local primary care physicians to provide a continuum of care while patients are hospitalized, according to John Andursky, the hospital’s chief executive officer (CEO).
“The role of a hospitalist is to assist primary care physicians with care of their patients while they are in the hospital,” said Amy Fetterolf, the hospital’s director of nursing.
“This allows primary care doctors to spend more time in their offices with their scheduled patients,” she added. “When the patient is discharged from the hospital, a follow up appointment occurs with the primary care physician, who then resumes care of their patient.”
Dr. Jacobson graduated from Pacific Luthern University in Parkland, WA, with a bachelor’s degree in biology in 1986. He then attended the University of Osteopathic Medicine and Health Sciences in Des Moines, Iowa, and graduated as a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) in May of 1997. He attended St. John Detroit Riverview Hospital from July 1997 to June 2000 and completed graduate resident medical training as a resident in internal medicine.
He is board-certified by the American Osteopathic Board of Internal Medicine. He was affiliated with St. Johns Detroit Hospital from 2000- 2001 and Excela Health from 2001- 2020.
He resides in Jeannette with his wife Michele.
JULY 08, 2020 | BY CINDY EKAS
Highlands Hospital and its frontline workers have continued to serve the community during the COVID-19 virus and beyond.
“As I reflect on how our world has changed over the past few months, I thought of here in our own hospital community – our past, our present and our future,” said John Andursky, the hospital’s chief executive officer (CEO). “The world has been slowly opening back up,” he continued. “While we’re all eager to return to some semblance of normalcy, the truth is that the world we are entering now is far different than the one we left behind just a few months ago. “I have as many questions as you do about how things will change in the days, months and years ahead,” he added. “But I am confident of one thing, the resiliency of our Highlands Hospital community will continue to come together to support one another as we have seen the past few months.”
Andursky said he is extremely proud of the hospital’s front-line healthcare providers and staff for their hard work to ensure “our collective well-being.” “Our entire organization has worked diligently to initiate a comprehensive plan and series of preventative measures to protect the health of the patients in our care and our fellow staff members,” he said.
Andursky said there was no COVID-19 playbook. “And this virus has been one of the greatest challenges we have faced in all facets of our lives,” he said. “Patients with co-morbid conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity were put at a higher risk of complications related to COVID-19. These patients have a decreased ability to fight infections.
“We also are reminded that in times of COVID-19 or otherwise the importance of treating individuals whole health-mental and emotional, as well as physical,” he added. Andursky said now more than ever the hospital needs to change the stigma of mental health support services. “Just a few months ago, we had no idea that all our worlds were going to be turned upside down by the coronavirus or that associated worry, isolation, loneliness and anxiety would be something that literally everyone would experience,” he said. “Highlands Hospital continues to be a pillar of strength for those seeking mental health support.”
Through it all, Andursky said he was pleased to announced that during these challenging times, Highlands Hospital recruited a new top-notch Emergency Department (ED) group that is in place and seeing patients. Dr. Abram Wiener is leading the way as he is the new medical director for the Emergency Department. A new hospitalist, Dr. Scott M. Jacobson, M.D. was also hired. As a hospitalist, Dr. Jacobson works closely with many local primary care physicians to provide a continuum of care while patients are hospitalized.
And lastly, Highlands has announced its new radiologist group, Suburban Imaging.
“There is no doubt that the coming months will bring continued change,” Andursky said. “We will continue to evolve to meet the ever changing needs of our community, as well as ensure that we, an independent community hospital, remain financially strong and forward thinking. “We thank you for the unwavering support for our community hospital which will soon be celebrating its 130th anniversary and all of our people in service to you –– our community,” he added.
JUNE 30, 2020 | BY CINDY EKAS
Highlands Hospital employees step outside to see the chalk art on the sidewalk that is designed to cheer them up. Shown (above from left) are Amy Etling, Courtney Brooks, Chrisi Smith, Barbie Dunmeyer and Caitlyn Anderson.
“We Love Our Health Care Professionals. You are brave, strong, resilient, caring, loving, valuable, cherished, appreciated, admired, special and heroic.” These were some of the sidewalk chalk messages left recently to cheer doctors, nurses and staff members at Highlands Hospital. The sidewalk messages are part of nationwide program called “Can We Chalk?” recently started by AseraCare Hospice to reach out to medical workers.
“The campaign was started as a way to cheer up the staff and community and to thank our Highlands Hospital staff with inspirational quotes and pictures,” said Tierney Guarascio, provider relations manager with AseraCare, which serves hospice patients in Fayette, Westmoreland, Greene, Washington and Allegheny counties.
The brightly-colored chalk messages and pictures appear both in front of Highlands Hospital and at the entryway to its emergency room.
“The idea is to give short, but sweet messages to thank the staffs of our local hospitals and care facilities,” said Guarascio, who explained that provider relations managers of AseraCare have been reaching out to hospitals and facilities across the nation to coordinate “Can We Chalk?” messages.
(Left) This shows the chalk art that is on the sidewalk outside Highlands Hospital in Connellsville.
APRIL 29, 2020, BY PAULA O’CONNELL
Dorothy Sellers, 106, a Connellsville native who now lives in New York City, remembers the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic when she was a little girl growing up in the city.
Connellsville native Dorothy Sellers, 106, still remembers when the 1918 flu pandemic struck when she was just a little girl.
“I was only 5 years old, but I remember hearing sad conversations during the pandemic,” Sellers said during a telephone interview from her Long Island home. “I remember feeling sadness.”
Many years later, Sellers said she realized that the pandemic was world history.
“I can still remember a big platform built on the outskirts of town where they put extra patients they were treating,” Sellers said. “It was a very sad subject.”
Back in 1918, Highlands Hospital was known as Cottage State Hospital. It was established in 1890 with the first patient admitted in 1891. It later came under state ownership and was established for coal miners, according to Marcy Ozorowski, an employee at Highlands Hospital.
Although the pandemic was very sad, Sellers said no one in her family died.
However, Sellers remembers that a very close friend of her father, Williams “Bill” Sellers, died during the pandemic.
“His name was Bill Sherman,” she said. “It was newly married and had just returned to Connellsville after World War I. He came to visit us all the time, and I remember that I really missed him.”
When asked to compare the 1918 flu pandemic with the current COVID-19 pandemic, Sellers said she was too young to remember.
“I can tell you that I’m not happy with the current pandemic and never is anyone else,” Sellers said.
Sellers said she had a wonderful childhood growing up in Connellsville.
“I remember that we had a good bit of property,” she said. “I have a very pleasant memory of my childhood there. I remember at time that you could see the fire burning in the coke ovens. I had a very pleasant memory of my childhood there. Connellsville was a very pleasant world.”
When she was a Connellsville resident, Sellers said she remembers the Driscoll family, who owned the Daily Courier at the time.
“My father was very good friends with William ‘Bill’ Discoll,” Sellers said. “The Driscolls were very well-known in Connellsville.”
Sellers said she also remembers a big house that her family owned in Connellsville
“We had a very big white house, and people would drive by to see it because it was very nicely landscaped,” she said. “Before my father died, the house burned down, and my father suffered injuries.”
A 1931 graduate of Connellsville High School, Sellers said she attended college in Ohio.
“I had to leave college during the midst of the Great Depression because my father had just died,” she said. “That was the low point of my life. I had to leave school because there was no one to pay my bills.”
When Sellers was attending college in Ohio, she remembers that her father came to pick her up and bring her back to Connellsville.
“I remember my father bringing me back from college to Connellsville,” she said. “I got to see my grandparents. Casper Fries was my grandfather’s name.”
After leaving college, Sellers said she decided to move to New York City where her aunt was working.
“She offered me half of her bedroom, and I took it,” Sellers said. “She lived on Long Island, and I was looking for a job.”
After a long unsuccessful attempt to find a job, Sellers said she finally found a job.
“I lied about my background to get the job,” Sellers said, laughing. “I looked about 14 years old at the time. Naturally, they weren’t going to give me a job.
“One day the office manager came around and asked me if I had worked for Mr. Gardner, so I saw that they had me,” she added. “I told her that I couldn’t get a job unless I lied. She told me, ‘We are not going to fire you because you doing so well. Now, no more lies. That was my big lesson in life.”
Eventually, Sellers found a job at Seagram’s Distillery which was located at the intersection of Park Avenue and 52nd Street in Manhattan.
When asked if her Manhattan job was exciting, Sellers said “not really.”
One of her friends and neighbors Gretchen Browne, who helped Sellers with the telephone interview, said Sellers was “downplaying her role as a business woman in New York City.”
Sellers was eventually promoted to executive assistant of the CEO of Seagram’s, which is a landmark in New York City.
“Dorothy was also a very gifted artist who sold her artwork in New York City,” Browne said. “She is a very special person in my life. She took aerobics at age 98. She still lives independently. She has a few aides who come into her home to help her.
“She is a very successful person who came from Connellsville,” Browne added.
APRIL 24, 2020, BY CINDY EKAS
Submitted Karen Parlak (left) and Charlie Brown, two nurses at Highlands Hospital who are on the front line are shown in front of a historical Highlands Hospital photo.
Highlands Hospital in Connellsville has been taking care of its community for almost 130 years through three devastating diseases, including the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918, the polio outbreak in the1950s and the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Marcy Ozoroski, former president of AFSCME No. 2340 who has worked as a patient accounting assistant for the Hospital for 36 years, said the original hospital was named Cottage State Hospital and was established in 1890 with its first patient admitted in 1891.
It later came under state ownership and was established for coal miners, she said.
Ozoroski said nurses lived in the red brick structure that is still visible as the East Wing in 1953 that now houses payroll, accounting, human resources, education and employee health.
“We are a 64-bed facility that is the second largest employer in the city with over 400 employees,” she said.
As the local economy and population declined with the recession of the 1970s, the state’s efforts to own and manage health care facilities also diminished.
In 1985, after years of speculation that the hospital would close, Pennsylvania fully divested itself of Connellsville State Hospital, giving ownership and management over to the local community. It was the first of eight stateowned hospitals to go private.
To assure the institution’s stability and success, the divestiture agreement provided for oversight by a local Board of Directors. It also required a partnership with an established health care organization which Forbes Health System fulfilled, allowing Highlands to still retain its operational control and identity.
On September 7, 1985, Highlands Hospital was introduced to the community as a not-for-profit institution and a member of the Forbes Health System.
Following 10 years of growth and improvements to its facilities, services and technology, Highlands Hospital separated from the Forbes Health System in order to focus more on the changing health care needs and issues of the local community.
Highlands Hospital then entered into a three-year partnership with the nearby Frick Hospital, resulting in the Fay-West Health System. Philosophical differences and strategic disparities led to an eventual disassociation in 2000.
Highlands Hospital now operates as an independent, not-for-profit acute care hospital, constantly striving to keep quality care and leading edge technology available and accessible to residents in the Connellsville area.
The Spanish flu epidemic was in 1918-1920, so the hospital was here for 28 years before that pandemic, according to Ozorowski. “I think it is such a great testament to our hospital to have been taking care of our community for almost 130 years, through three devastating diseases,” she said.
“Unfortunately, it is times like this (COVID-19 pandemic) that make us truly appreciate having a local hospital, and we should remind our state and federal governments how overwhelming the spread of these diseases would be without the vigilance of the small town hospitals,” she said.
“They should be making every effort to keep them viable and accessible to its citizens,” she added. “Connellsville is very blessed to have local healthcare to depend upon all of the time.”
As the local economy and population declined with the recession of the 1970s, the state’s efforts to own and manage health care facilities also diminished.
In 1985, after years of speculation that the hospital would close, Pennsylvania fully divested itself of “Connellsville State Hospital,” giving ownership and management over to the local community. It was the first of eight state-owned hospitals to go private.
To assure the institution’s stability and success, the divestiture agreement provided for oversight by a local Board of Directors.
It also required a partnership with an established health care organization which Forbes Health System fulfilled, allowing Highlands to still retain its operational control and identity.
On September 7, 1985, Highlands Hospital was introduced to the community as a not-for-profit institution and member of the Forbes Health System. Following 10 years of growth and improvements to its facilities, services, and technology, Highlands Hospital separated from the Forbes Health System in order to focus more on the changing health care needs and issues of the local community.
Highlands Hospital then entered a three-year partnership with the nearby Frick Hospital, resulting in the Fay-West Health System.
Philosophical differences and strategic disparities led to an eventual disassociation in 2000.
Highlands Hospital now operates as an independent, not-for-profit acute care hospital, constantly striving to keep quality care and leading edge technology available and accessible to residents in the Connellsville area.
APRIL 24, 2020, BY CINDY EKAS
Vicki Meier, Executive Director of the Highlands Hospital Foundation receives a $500 check for the Hospital Foundation Front Line Fund from Ethan Keedy, Local Business Owner of Keedy’s Pizzeria. In addition, he has donated pizza and meals at Easter for Hospital Employees.
If you would like more information on how to support Highlands Hospital Foundation Front Line Fund, please go to our donation page. Checks can be made payable to “Highlands Hospital Front Line Fund” and mailed to 401 E. Murphy Ave, Connellsville, Pa. 15425.
“The staff of Highlands Hospital appreciates the total outpouring of support and prayers from our community. So many are asking what they can do to support our front line hospital staff,” says Vicki Meier, Executive Director of the Hospital’s newly created Hospital Foundation. “Because of these inquires, we are establishing the HH Front Line Fund.”
This fund will enable our front line staff to tell us what they need in order to improve their daily work experience. They are the individuals we look to when we are most vulnerable. “We appreciate and value them and feel by creating this fund, we can show them our appreciation,” says John Fiesta, Hospital Foundation President.
If you would like to make a donation, no matter the amount, please send to “HH Foundation Front Line Fund.” If you are not in a position to make a monetary donation, we are accepting masks, gloves, hand sanitizers, and disinfectants. We ask for your continued prayers and support for all those individuals caring for us during these challenging times.
Highlands Hospital has a new economic leader after the hospital’s CEO John Andursky announced recently that Ryann Bradley had been appointed as chief financial officer.
According to Andursky, “Ryann has been influential in Southwestern Pennsylvania and the Pittsburgh Regions over the past 13 years in the field of Healthcare. He has excelled in the specialties of Finance and Revenue Cycle Operations.”
Bradley earned his Masters of Business Administration from Seton Hill University, along with a Masters of Accounting from Chatham University. He began his career in accounting and finance at Deloitte, but has held positions at UPMC and Allegheny Health Network, along with consulting with various hospitals in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and West Virginia. Most recently, Bradley worked for LifePoint Health, an 85-hospital for-profit health system, where he served as controller, overseeing $800 million of revenue annually for their hospitals in the Pennsylvania and North Carolina markets.
While with Lifepoint Health, Bradley worked with a revenue cycle management system, which, according to Bradley, tracks a patient’s revenue from the initial appointment within the healthcare system to the payment of the final balance. It’s a system Bradley has been working hard to implement at the Connellsville facility.
“Revenue cycle follows through the life cycle of a patient enhancing the overall patient experience,” said Bradley.
Bradley added that although Lifepoint Health was a larger health system, many of the hospitals he oversaw using the revenue cycle management system were smaller, independent, community-driven hospitals, such as Conemaugh Health System in Johnstown – and Highlands Hospital.
“I feel that having a community-based hospital is critical in today’s healthcare environment,” said Bradley.
Bradley said, “I have a passion to work with community-based hospitals to make them successful. We are here to serve not only our patients, but the community.”
“He has an amazing financial background,” said Vicki Meier, the hospital’s director of community and professional relations. “We are fortunate to have him.”
Highlands Hospital has been serving the community for more than 100 years, but if it should continue to have success for another 100 years, it needs to adjust it’s direction.
“He’s up for the challenge,” said Meier.
Although for more than a decade, he has been spending time in the healthcare field, before that Bradley spent his time on a different kind of field – as a professional soccer player for the Pittsburgh Riverhounds for several years. Now, in his spare time, He works in the Connellsville community coaching youth soccer with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds Academy.
Bradley enjoys working with the youth he coaches in soccer.
“It’s more about giving back and paying it forward,” said Bradley. “It’s not just about teaching soccer. There’s always life lessons. I enjoy helping the kids become well-rounded human beings.”
Originally from South Park, Bradley resides in New Stanton with his wife Dr. Krista Boyer.
Credit: Amy Fauth email@example.com
Highlands Hospital, Chief Executive Officer John Andursky has announced the official appointment of Ryann Bradley to the position of Chief Financial Officer. According to Andursky, “Ryann has been influential in Southwestern Pennsylvania and the Pittsburgh Regions over the past 13 years in the field of Healthcare. He has excelled in the specialties of Finance and Revenue Cycle Operations.”
He started his accounting and finance career at Deloitte after he obtained his MBA from Seton Hill University. Ryann also has a Masters of Accounting from Chatham University. Over the years, he has held positions at UPMC, Allegheny Health Network, and has consulted with various hospitals in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and West Virginia. Ryann most recently worked for LifePoint Health, an 85-hospital for profit health system, where he served in the capacity of Controller, overseeing $800M of revenue annually for the Pennsylvania and North Carolina markets.
In his spare time, Ryann works in the Connellsville community coaching youth soccer with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds Academy. Ryann resides in New Stanton with his wife Dr. Krista Boyer. He is looking forward to helping Highlands Hospital strengthen its resources and continue serving patients locally and regionally.
Highlands Hospital’s Center for Health and Community Impact in Connellsville is now using a technology-based treatment for depression as an alternative to traditional methods that have failed for some patients.
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) is a noninvasive procedure that uses magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells in the brain to improve symptoms of depression, and it’s typically used when other depression treatments haven’t been effective.
Dr. Ryan Wakim, psychiatrist and director of Highlands Hospital’s TMS program, said that TMS has been studied since the mid-1980s but was not approved to treat depression until 2008. Unfortunately, the treatment is expensive and at that time, insurances weren’t on board with covering it, so wealthier individuals seemed to be the only ones who were able to take advantage if it, according to Wakim.
“The treatment is not new, it’s just new to the general public” he said. “It took a while to get insurances on board.”
“In order for a patient to qualify for the treatment with insurance companies, they have to have tried and failed at medications,” Wakim said. “Most insurances require a patient to have tried four different medications, some insurances require three and Medicare requires just one failed medication,” said Wakim.
The National Institute of Mental Health shows that major depressive disorder affects approximately 17.3 million American adults, or about 7.1% of the U.S. population age 18 and older, in a given year. The Center for Disease Control adds that 1.9 million children ages 3 to 17 have diagnosed depression.
TMS involves delivering repetitive magnetic pulses where an electromagnetic coil is placed against the scalp near the forehead. The electromagnet painlessly delivers a magnetic pulse that stimulates nerve cells in the region of the brain involved in mood control and depression. It’s thought to activate regions of the brain that have decreased activity in depression.
Crystal Clevenger, TMS coordinator for Highlands Hospital, said once a patient arrives, he or she sits down in the chair, gets hooked up to the machine and then starts treatment.
“They can watch a television show or talk to us over those 18 minutes, and once they are done, they can leave and resume their normal activity,” Clevenger said. “There’s no need to have someone pick them up – they are able to drive themselves.”
Wakim said treatments are administered for 20 minutes a day, 5 days a week for six weeks.
“We locate the area of the brain that is responsible for depression, and we treat just that area,” he said. “Every single electromagnetic pulse feels like a tap, and it taps 3,000 times in 18 minutes and 45 seconds.”
Wakim said the results they are seeing with TMS is that 45 percent of patients go into remission from depression and of those that don’t go into remission, 68 percent have at least a 50 percent reduction in symptoms.
The Mayo Clinic website lists common side effects with TMS as headache, scalp discomfort at the site of stimulation, tingling, lightheadedness or spasms or twitching of facial muscles.
Clevenger said they have had 16 or 17 patients they’ve treated since they began seeing patients in March. She added that the only side effect any of her patients have noticed at this point has been mild headaches that are treatable with over-the-counter medication.
The clinic in Connellsville is currently seeing eight different patients, but Wakim said there’s room for at least 12 in a week. Clevenger said because they have extended hours, they could plausibly see up to 15 patients in a week.
She added that it’s possible for an individual who has done TMS treatments and has seen a benefit from the therapy, to repeat the treatment later down the road if he or she slips back into depression.
Currently, this is the only TMS machine in Fayette County, Wakim said, noting he also has machines in Wexford, Monroeville, McMurray and Robinson as well.
Wakim said the chair itself is an investment of $90,000 to purchase and upwards of $150,000 a year for fees to the medical device companies for the use of the technology.
“To find someone to invest in the machine and the people necessary to operate it is expensive and not an easy task,” he said.
Clevenger said patients are usually referred to the clinic by their primary care physician, but individuals can call the clinic at 724-603-2652 to set up an evaluation.
“We always evaluate each patient first before we ever put them in the chair,” she said.
But John Andursky, chief executive officer at Highlands Hospital, said the investment is worth it.
“We are proud to be at the forefront of providing this FDA approved non-drug innovative form of care,” he said.
Original story posted by Observer Reporter on 8.11.19
122 South Main Street
Washington, PA 15301
Officials with Highlands Hospital unveiled their newly renovated Extended Acute Care Behavioral Health Unit about three months ago, and hospital Chief Executive Officer John Andursky said things are going well.
“We have room for 14 extended stay patients and right now we have one that is currently using our facilities,” he said. “It opened relatively quickly, but it’s a slow process because it’s through planned admissions.
“Unlike the acute care unit where an individual comes to us for immediate care and stays three to five days, there is a process a patient has to go through to be part of the extended stay unit, which usually is a stay anywhere from 30 to 90 days,” Andursky added.
The program is under the direction of Dr. Ryan J. Wakim and is managed by Susan Mongell, director of behavioral health services. The unit consists of 14 beds, including four private rooms and five semi-private rooms.
The Westmoreland Behavioral Health Administration as well as Beacon Health provided the grant funds for the renovation because of the needs in both Fayette and Westmoreland counties and other surrounding counties and Highlands responded to the administration’s search to create the extended stay unit.
“The extended stay unit (which they named the Serenity unit and is on the third floor) was a former med/surg unit that was underutilized,” Androsky said. “They (Westmoreland Behavioral Health Administration) provided the grant funds for the project because of the needs in Fayette and Westmoreland counties, but we actually have contracts with a multitude of different counties in this region.”
It is the only extended acute care behavioral health treatment center in the county and actually takes a holistic approach to healing the mind, body and soul of all patients, he said.
Androsky said they’re grateful for the grant funding to provide the needed facilities in the area for extended stay behavioral care.
“There is definitely a shortage of extended acute care beds in the region,” he said. “It could be a matter of clinically determined services related to the needs of the patients, but I feel it’s mostly due to the fact that there are fewer and fewer providers.”
Andursky added that extended acute care is insured.
“It’s a recognized service by providers kind of like skilled nursing is a recognized service on the physical side,” he said.
“The renovated unit has a warm, welcoming and relaxed feel from the moment you step through the door,” said Mongell. “Patients will experience healing modalities such as drum circles, music therapy and art therapy.
“Concentration on making a smooth transition back to daily life and meeting specific needs at this point in their lives is a big part of the treatment,” she added.
Andursky said this approach provides transitional services for individuals who will benefit from a longer length of stay than acute inpatient behavioral health hospitalization, and as for the holistic approach, he thinks more and more providers are seeing the benefits of this approach.
“We are proud to offer this holistic approach that helps the patient feel at home while keeping a safe environment for their treatment,” he said.
By Rachel Basinger, firstname.lastname@example.org
Almost a year after Highlands Hospital in Connellsville conducted a community survey to identify the current health needs of the area, officials there are taking the key findings and beginning the work towards community concerns.
“We value the community health needs reporting requirement as an important tool to provide intense focus on the needs of the communities that we serve and to demonstrate the depth of our commitment to address those needs for our patients and the community,” said Highlands Hospital CEO, John Andursky, who noted that the hospital is required to conduct the survey every three years as dictated by the IRS due to the hospital’s nonprofit status.
Director of Development, Vicki Meier, said mental/behavioral health and substance abuse were the top two identified health needs by the stakeholders interviewed for the Community Health Needs Assessments (CHNA).
Several measures have already been taken to address these health needs, Meier said, including creating a behavioral health referral network with primary care physicians. Highlands officials have also developed a telepsychiatry program, a form of video conferencing that can provide psychiatric services to patients.
Officials at the hospital have also been working toward an increased awareness and skills of all staff and community members regarding behavioral health, including expanding autism services in alliance with Cleveland Clinic Children’s Center for Autism.
“Over the last three years, Highlands Hospital’s Regional Center for Autism, which is a licensed site of Cleveland Clinic Children’s Center for Autism, has been able to support additional students with daily ADA Programming as part of their year-round school program, which brings enrollment to 30 students,” Meier said.
The hospital also purchased the former Zachariah Connell School to expand the autism center size to be able to enroll up to 70 students. The renovations were completed in August of 2018, and the new Regional Center/School for Autism opened its doors at the Center for Health & Community Impact located at 700 Park Street in Connellsville.
“Students attending Highlands Hospital Regional Center for Autism receive services in all areas of their academics, functional living skills, communication, socialization and behavior,” Andursky said.
“Thanks to the generous donation by John and Diane Carom, owner of Abbey’s Jewelers in Uniontown, we are now incorporating more off-site recreational day camp experiences called ‘Evan’s Destination Day Camp’ for our students,” he added.
The Highlands Hospital Opioid Center of Excellence (OCE), which began in February 2017, is one of 45 statewide Pennsylvania Department of Human Services grant-funded programs to address the opioid crisis.
Meier said the Hub and Spoke program model assures that Highlands Hospital (as the hub) is working within the community to link individuals with community services and treatment program (the spokes).
Data from the survey also showed that over one in four (27.2 percent) focus group participants and 11.6 percent of community survey respondents rated their personal health as “fair or poor.”
In conjunction, over half (57.5 percent) rated the overall health of the community as “fair or poor” and many focus group participants reported experiencing diabetes, high blood pressure, depression and thyroid problems.
“In response, we continue to educate primary care physicians about the Highlands Hospital Center for Diabetes and all the services provided, and we have also reached out to the community to help educate them on diabetes,” Meier said.
The hospital has also recently partnered with West Virginia University’s Heart & Vascular Institute.
“WVU’s presence at Highlands Hospital reinforces the hospital’s commitment of ensuring coordinated comprehensive care close to home,” Meier said.
Hospital officials have also implemented a non-invasive treatment, Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, for treating depression. Appointments are being scheduled at the New Center for Health & Community Impact by calling 724-603-2652.
“Our approach is to continue making the former Zachariah Connell School be a Center for Health Impact and the hub of community health,” Meier said. “One of our initiatives will focus on Women’s and Family Health and Wellness.”
The hospital’s Community Health Needs Steering Committee is in the process of developing a strategic implementation plan with the goal being to create a healthier community, she added.
The results from the CHNA will help hospital leaders better direct resources to improve population health of our region.
“Small rural community hospitals are invaluable assets to the communities they serve,” Andursky said. “Highlands Hospital continues to identify opportunities to remain viable and provide quality patient care.”
“In addition, the hospital is focusing our efforts to serve as a provider of wellness, prevention, and care for the greater Connellsville region and beyond,” Andursky said.
By Rachel Basinger
Diabetes is a horrible disease. The toll it’s taking on Americans is staggering. According to the American Diabetes Association:
• Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death with 252,806 people dying of diabetes in 2015.
• 1.5 million Americans are diagnosed with new cases of diabetes every year.
• 30.3 million Americans or 9 percent of the population have the disease.
• Another 84.1 million Americans or almost a third of the population have pre-diabetes, which often leads to diabetes.
• In Pennsylvania, 12 percent of the population have the disease and 35.8 percent of the population have pre-diabetes.
• 25 percent of the nation’s senior citizens have diabetes.
• The total costs for diabetes in 2015 were $237 billion for medical expenses and $90 million in reduced productivity.
In addition, diabetes can lead to many serious problems including blindness, heart problems, neuropathy and amputations.
A chronic disease, diabetes occurs because the body is unable to use blood sugar (glucose) properly. Type 1 diabetes occurs, mostly in young people, when insulin-producing cells are damaged or destroyed and stop producing insulin, which is needed to move blood sugar into cells throughout the body. The resulting insulin deficiency leaves too much sugar in the blood and not enough in the cells for energy.
Type 2 diabetes, which is much more common than Type 1, occurs when insulin is produced normally in the pancreas, but the body is unable move glucose into the cells. At first, the pancreas will create more insulin to overcome the body’s resistance, but eventually the cells wear out. At that point the body slows insulin production, leaving too much glucose in the blood.
Diabetes is often worse for people rural areas, which lack the modern medical facilities found in urban areas.
However, that’s not the case here in Fayette County where Highlands Hospital has an excellent diabetes center which offers numerous educational programs and other services to individuals with all types of diabetes.
Education is crucial for people with diabetes. While there’s no cure for the disease, it can be controlled, mainly through diet and exercise.
Bridgette Lowry, the certified diabetes educator at the center, notes that the first appointment is always one-on-one.
“Diabetes care is 99 percent the person who has it. It’s not a lot of doctor management,’’ noted Lowry.
While normal blood sugar levels are considered below 5.7, the American Diabetes Association’s goal for people with Type 2 diabetes is to achieve an A1C level below 7.0. Lowry said the center’s education programs seem to be working.
“We have group classes, and these are extremely helpful. Fifty four percent of the people who attend our diabetes classes achieve an A1C of less than 7. That’s huge.” Lowry said.
Lowry said it’s not only important to educate patients, area doctors also need to realize the importance of diabetes education in successfully treating their patients. Referrals are needed for the educational services which are covered by most insurance plans.
“I do have some doctors who are really good about referrals,” Lowry said.
Janelle Sepkovic, a certified Registered Nurse Practitioner, from the Dr. James Oppy practice in Connellsville, said the diabetes center is a vital resource.
“The Diabetes Center has become such an important resource for our practice. The knowledge and skill of the educators is reflected by overall A1C reduction in our diabetic population. The collaborative relationship that we have with the center has successfully bridged a large gap in diabetic management in our community,” Sepkovic stated.
But the problem is that many people may not even know they have diabetes. That’s why it’s important for all adults to get checked for diabetes, which can be detected by blood testing. The disease can be hereditary so people who have family members with diabetes should be particularly careful. Senior citizens should also get tested since they’re more likely than others to get the disease.
Often times there are no symptoms for people with diabetes. When symptoms do occur, they can include urinating often, feeling very thirsty, feeling hungry even though you’ve eaten, extreme fatigue, blurry vision, cuts and bruises that are slow to heal, unexplained weight loss and tingling, pain or numbness in hands and feet.
For more information or to set up an appointment, contact the diabetes center Monday through Friday 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. at 724-628-8008.
The center can offer plenty of help to those suffering from diabetes. The staff there is very informative and supportive. But you have to be there to take advantage of their expertise. Don’t delay. Give the office a call today. It just might be the most important call you’ll ever make.
DECEMBER 03, 2018
BY MARK O’KEEFE
Mark O’Keefe is a contributing editorial writer for the Daily Courier.
A familiar face is taking on a new role at Highlands Hospital. Dr. Richard Tiberio was named as Highlands’ first Chief Medical Officer by the hospital’s Board of Trustees. Tiberio has been practicing in Connersville for nearly 30 years. He is a board-certified internist who focuses on the treatment of hypertension, diabetes, lipid disorders and vascular disease. Highlands Hospital CEO John Andursky said that while the position is new, Tiberio has a long list of duties. “He’s going to be the liaison between the medical staff and the hospital board and administration,” Andursky said. “He’s helping us coordinate a lot of different issues with patient care,”Andursky added. Andursky said Tiberio has an excellent reputation for providing quality patient care. “He brings a thoughtful approach to our future planning efforts for Highlands Hospital. He has a true desire to make an impact in our community and beyond. We are fortunate to have him on our leadership team and expand our mission,” Andursky said. Tiberio is a Clinical Professor of Medicine for Seton Hill University’s Physician’s Assistant Program.
He holds a bachelor of science degree, graduating Magna Cum Laude from Harvard University. Tiberio received his medical degree from the University of Pittsburgh Medical School. He completed his residency at Mercy Hospital in Pittsburgh. “I am looking forward to taking on this new leadership role for the hospital,” Dr. Tiberio said. “We have so much talent among our staff. And I am excited to oversee the efforts of ensuring that our patients receive top-notch quality care close to home.”
Christine Haines, Daily Courier (724- 628-2000, ext. 116.)
When it comes to getting medical care, a growing number of people are avoiding hospitals.
There are exceptions, but consumer cost pressures, urgent care centers and drugstore clinics are taking hospitals’ lunch money as they scramble for ways to cut costs, merge with bigger systems and otherwise partner to provide medical services to keep the lights on. The trend isn’t new.
But now, a report by a Warrendale-based trade group points to health insurers as a big part of why hospitals are losing their luster. The reason is simple cost-cutting, according to the Healthcare Council of Western Pennsylvania. Blood work, medical scans and other services cost less outside the hospital, so insurers send their customers elsewhere.
“You’re living off your balance sheet,” said Denis Lukes, CFO of the Healthcare Council of Western Pennsylvania. “In the long term, that’s not sustainable. A lot of these community hospitals are just trying to survive.”
Highmark spokesman Aaron Billger defended the Pittsburgh insurer’s cost-cutting efforts, saying that consumers are becoming smarter about health care choices while the quality of care has improved.
“The quality of our members’ care has increased while these inpatient stays have decreased and this has led us to acknowledge that our members are getting better care,” Mr. Billger said in a statement.
Hospital admissions in Western Pennsylvania were off 2.74 percent to 486,617 in fiscal 2018 from 500,310 in 2017, a survey of 62 hospitals by the Healthcare Council found.
Inpatient surgical operations slipped 4.3 percent during the same period. At the same time, emergency room registrations fell 3.4 percent to 1.7 million in 2018.
Even as the average hospital revenue from core medical services ticked up to 4.6 percent in 2018 from 4.3 percent a year earlier, the Healthcare Council says more than half of the 62 hospitals surveyed, or 53 percent, saw operating margins sink over the past year.
At Washington Hospital, for example, admissions fell to 11,432 for the year ending June 30, down 8.6 percent from the same period in 2017. Emergency department admissions dipped 3.7 percent.
Inpatient surgical cases slipped 1 percent for the year, 2,233 in 2018 versus 2,257 a year ago.
Fewer surgeries and the drop in admissions translated into a 3.2 percent loss in operating revenue at Washington Hospital for the year — $240.4 million in revenue in 2018 compared to $248.4 in 2017.
“The long term trend line has been going down for a long time,” CEO Gary Weinstein said. “The regional decline in inpatient admissions, surgery, ER admissions — that’s consistent with what we’ve seen here.”
And health insurance costs aren’t helping: plan deductibles for individuals have tripled since 2008, growing eight times faster than wages, according to a new study by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.
The average single deductible has more than doubled since 2008 — $1,573 compared to $735 back then.
Higher health insurance costs mean delayed or skipped medical care, Healthcare Council’s Mr. Lukes said.
“If I can delay my hip surgery for another year or two, I’m going to do that,” he said. “There’s no question people are putting these things off.”
Highlands Hospital CEO John Andursky said the trends identified in the Healthcare Council survey are familiar to those at his 64-bed Fayette County facility.
Highlands is fighting back by repurposing existing space at the Connellsville hospital and by expanding niche outpatient services, including care for people with autism.
Highlands reported revenue of $30.1 million in 2016, the most recent figures available, finishing the 12 months with a balance of $1.8 million. Financial reports for fiscal 2018 were being audited and not available, Mr. Andursky said, but he said the hospital would break even for the year.
Enrollment is growing for an autism program that Highlands offers at the former Zachariah Connell Elementary School in Dunbar Township, which the hospital bought in 2015. Five staff members were hired in October, Mr. Andursky said.
The school, which has a capacity for 72 students, has an enrollment of 24. In addition to autism services, an outpatient women’s health center is planned at the school.
At the main hospital, Highlands is converting underutilized space into a 14-bed step-down unit for patients with behavioral health problems.
“It does open up some doors for us to reinventing ourselves,” Mr. Andursky said.
Nick Jacobs speaks recently at a Breast Cancer Awareness dinner in Connellsville. Submitted
Highlands Hospital is one of three hospitals in the nation partnering with the Clinical Breast Care Project, a repository of more than 100,000 donated tissue samples for the study of breast cancer.
The center is located in Windber, Pa., near Johnstown and was started in 2000 by Dickerson Run native Nick Jacobs in conjunction with the Department of Defense utilizing a grant obtained through the late Congressman Jack Murtha.
Connellsville is the third hospital to partner with the research center, joining Anne Arundel Hospital in Maryland and the Walter Reed-Bethesda Medical Center. To date, Jacobs said, 97 percent of the women asked have participated in the study.
Jacobs, who is now retired, said he wanted to bring this program to his hometown as well.
“People from this area will be participating in the effort to stop breast cancer or to cure breast cancer,” Jacobs said.
Women going to Highlands Hospital for mammograms will be asked if they want to participate in the study, Jacobs said, and if they agree, a blood sample will be taken. The partnership between the hospital and the Windber research center began a year ago, with the final stages of training and equipment installation just wrapping up now, said Vicki Meier, the hospital’s director of community and professional relations.
“It’s pay it forward. The information is being used for a cure, which is what we’re all about,” Meier said.
Because the original repository was set up in conjunction with the Department of Defense, Jacobs said, it offered in-depth information over time. Jacobs said in the past, tissue samples weren’t necessarily handled well or in a uniform manner and did not come with information about the person they came from.
Jacobs said nurses were hired to conduct an 800-field survey with those who were donating tissue samples so more was known about lifestyle, diet and family backgrounds.
That information is placed in a database and can be analyzed from many perspectives.
“We started seeing a correlation between drinking coffee and a low incidence of breast cancer,” Jacobs said. “It created a treasure trove of information.”
Jacobs said that because the project is affiliated with the military, medical data on the women is available for as long as they are serving in the armed forces. All military personnel have blood testing done every two years, so that information is also provided to the Windber site.
When Jacobs found his research scientists becoming distracted by the amount of data available and heading in a multitude of directions not necessarily related to the human body and cancer, he hired foreign doctors for the research team who had medical training but were unable to practice in the United States because their licensing was obtained elsewhere, keeping the research focus on the medical applications.
Jacobs retired in 2009, which is the same year the National Cancer Institute conducted an assessment of the Windber facility, ranking it as the only Platinum facility in the United States.
“They began using the tissue to map the human breast cancer genome,” Jacobs said.
Genetic information is not the only benefit from the study, however. Jacobs said having additional information along with the tissue samples has allowed the researchers to learn so much more.
“Seventy five percent of what we’re dealing with is not genetic,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs said there are numerous environmental and even cultural issues that can lead to higher cancer mortality rates.
Jacobs said a nearly epidemic proportion of breast cancer cases were found in an area near a municipal waste incinerator in one area.
When African-American women in the military were found to be in later stages of breast cancer than their caucasian peers, all with the same access to the same health care, it was found that culturally, fewer black women breast fed or conducted monthly self-examinations, leading to later diagnoses and more advanced cancers, Jacobs said.
While the repository provides a wealth of information, because it has been primarily from U.S. military personnel, it contains few samples from either Hispanic or elderly women.
Jacobs said he has started a second research institute in Florida which studies 300 genes to determine how medications are metabolized, so drug therapies can be more efficient, especially in treating cancer where the wrong drug can be as damaging as the disease.
BY CHRISTINE HAINES
On September 26, 2018, Highlands Hospital announced that its Board of Trustees has appointed John Andursky as President and Chief Executive Officer. “We are fortunate to have someone of John Andursky’s caliber and experience step up to lead Highlands Hospital” said Michael Jordan, Board Chairman.”
Jordan added that “Andursky has been the hospital’s Chief Financial Officer for the last seventeen (17) years and in addition for the last seven months assumed the responsibilities of acting CEO. He did an outstanding job managing the responsibilities of these two demanding positions, insuring steady progress with the hospitals plans to expand its services in the Laurel Highlands region. John is a proven leader with excellent communication skills and the ability to bring people together to improve the image of the organization. His business vision and leadership skills will allow Highlands Hospital to successfully implement its current plans to open the Center for Health and Community Impact to improve the health status of the community it serves and develop long range plans to upgrade services offered by the hospital.”
Message from the Board Chairman: Michael Jordan
The program was presented to Connellsville Middle School students with a message of anti-drug, anti-bullying, and life-affirming messages. The hospital also made a donation to the school’s Caring Closet and Impact Kindness Club. Keep up the great work Mary Dreliszak and Connellsville School District. Highlands Hospital Hospital supports your efforts!
Evan’s Destination Day Camp is a fun way for students enrolled in the Highlands Hospital Regional Center for Autism school to get outside of the classroom and enjoy some fun activities out in the community.
Jordan Morran, director of autism services with the hospital, said community-style field trips so far have included a visit from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, a bowling trip and a visit to Living Treasures Animal Park in Donegal.
“We started with a visit in-house from the Carnegie Museum so they could get the learning skills needed to actually go out on a field trip,” she said. “They did really well with the visit and also did a great job on the two outings.”
This year they’re hoping to have Carnegie Museums come back for a visit. They’re looking into an indoor recreation facility in Uniontown, and next summer they’re hoping for a trip to Yogi Bear Campground in Mill Run.
“Yogi Bear is very ambitious for us, but we think it’s doable,” Morran said.
Without the fundraising efforts through Evan’s Destination Day Camp, Morran said they would not be able to provide these opportunities for the students.
John and Diane Carom, business owners in the Uniontown area, set up Evan’s Destination Day Camp in memory of their son who had a heart for the autistic community.
Evan (Carom) was introduced to Camp S.P.E.A.K. by older cousins who were special education teachers and worked at this Pittsburgh camp for autistic kids,” said John Carom.
He volunteered for the first year and submitted his volunteer work as his senior project, but camp managers liked his work so much that they hired him back for the next 10 years until his death in August 2015.
Evan was employed as a full-time employee at the family business, Abby’s Gold and Gems, because he was being prepared, along with his older sister, Danette, to eventually succeed us and own and operate the business,” John Carom said.
But Evan actually chose to make less money working at the summer camp each year than what he would have made working those months at the family business.
Evan loved his work with autistic kids as a teacher’s aide, since he did not have a teaching degree, and the kids in his groups and their parents often requested to be in his group,” John Carom said. “The staff also always remarked how well Evan worked with the kids, many of whom were non-verbal, sometimes acted out in public and generally needed help navigating the world outside of a very structured environment like school.”
After Evan passed away, the program, Evan’s Destination Day Camp, was started by his parents to respond to a need they know exists for the students at the Regional Center for Autism that lines up perfectly with what Evan did as a volunteer and then employee at the summer camp in Pittsburgh.
We know if asked, ‘Evan, should we put together a program and fund it that would provide recreation, socialization and education to autistic kids close to home,’ he’d have said yes in a heartbeat,” said John Carom.
While in some years prior, Highlands Hospital had sponsored a race for autism in Connellsville, this is the first year for a walk/run sponsored by Evan’s Destination Day Camp. This is not a timed race.
The walk/run is scheduled for Sept. 29 at the Sheepskin Trail at Hutchinson Park in Hopwood. Registration will begin at 9 a.m. and the walk/run will start at 10 a.m.
Pre-registration is $20 for 14 years and older or $10 for ages 8 to 13. Those who preregister are guaranteed a shirt. Race day registration is $25 for 14 years and older or $15 for ages 8 to 13. Race day registrants are not guaranteed a shirt.
Registration forms can be printed from the website www.evansdestinationdaycamp.com. Checks should be made out to Highlands Hospital Regional Center for Autism and completed registration forms and checks should be mailed to: John Carom c/o Abby’s 197 Morgantown Street, Uniontown, 15401.
The unofficial goal the Carom’s had hoped to raise with this walk/run was $5,000, and while they don’t have a final count yet because walkers, runners and sponsorships are still coming in, John Carom feels certain they’ve exceeded $12,000 so far.
For the future we may want to consider passing the walk on to another party or organization,” John Carom said. “It’s possible we will consider other fund raising efforts that have a different method of raising funds.
A lot may depend on how the center expands,” he added. “Now that their capacity is 75 students in the future, perhaps our fundraising that supports Evan’s Destination Day Camp’s program may require even more effort than we expended this year.”
Highlands Hospital in Connellsville has almost completed updates to convert the former Zachariah Connell Elementary School into a health care center.
They have moved their Highlands Hospital Regional Center for Autism school from its former location on Breakneck Road, where it only had enough room to serve less than 20 students, to the new site on Park Street in Connellsville, where space will allow for as many as 75 students.
The autism school is the only one in the state of Pennsylvania that is affiliated with the Cleveland Clinic.
The hospital’s autism facility has been open since 2011 with just four students its first year. It grew to 17 students as of last year, which was the maximum number the building could accommodate. “The last two years at the former location on Breakneck Road, they were operating at maximum capacity, so when this building came available, we knew it would be perfect for expansion,” said John Andursky, Chief Executive Officer at Highlands Hospital.
Jordan Morran, director of autism services, said they now have 24 students enrolled in the school, which caters to ages 5 years to age 21, and they are hoping to continue to grow in the future. “There are three licensed teachers who oversee the school and with our licensed classroom behavioral therapists, we have a ratio of one adult to one child, or at the least, one adult to two students,” Morran said. “All of our positions are degree positions, so we have a higher staff-to-student ratio and a more qualified staff than most autism programs.”
Students come to the school year-round and their enrollment is contracted through the school districts. Currently, the center partners with seven area school districts. “If [a parent] feels their child’s needs are not being met, they will reach out to the special education department at the school who would then get in contact with us,” Morran said. The Highlands staff would then work out a contract with the family for placement of the child in their school.
Along with the expanded school, renovations for a blended-care model wing that will include behavioral health, women’s health and primary care should be complete some time in October. The blended-care wing will mainly be a physician space that will include primary care services, behavioral health, integrative medicine techniques and possibly even a diabetes center. “We have a midwife partnering with us, a psychiatrist piece in place and now we’re working out a primary care component,” Andursky said. “We’re hoping to open this space by mid-October. One of the things they’re excited about with this is the new Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation machine that uses MRI techniques to stimulate that part of the brain that’s causing major depression.
“This is a way that we can begin to treat depression without having to use medicine,” Andursky said. “As a small independent hospital, we’re putting together unique services and really just reinventing ourselves. This stimulation technique is so unique that even the Cleveland Clinic has begun to look into it.”
He added that there are no side effects with the transcranial machine and now, insurance companies will cover the treatment if there is no improvement with an individual after treating them with at least one medicine first.
“The closest one to us right now is in Morgantown, and the therapy calls for four to six weeks of daily treatments, so unless you live close to one, you’re probably not going to be able to take advantage of something like this.”
The third project Highlands Hospital officials have planned for the building is a Women’s Center for Health Impact that will address risk factors for women’s health in a multifaceted way including physically, behaviorally and spiritually through hormone therapy, postpartum care, drug responsiveness and more.
Andursky said they are in the process of finalizing documentation for a Redevelopment Assistance Capitalization Project grant to help fund the women’s center.
“This will be a whole-person approach to provide diagnostic services for women from mammograms, bone density screenings and gynecological visits to hormone therapy and postpartum depression,” he said. Highlands officials expect the women’s center to be open by mid to late spring next year.
“From there, we will have one wing left on the top floor that will most likely be medical services or additional autism services,” Andursky said. “There’s also a possibility down the road that we would bring diabetes care into our blended care unit. We want to make all medical services as convenient as possible for the community.”
By Rachel Basinger
Students from the Highlands Hospital Austism Center cut the ribbon for their new school. The move to the former Zachariah Connell Elementary School will provide opportunities for the school to accept more students and provide them with more resources.
The ribbon cutting for the Highlands Hospital Center for Health and Community Impact was no ordinary ribbon cutting. It was not the dignitaries, not the donors, not the politicians who were called forward to hold and cut the ceremonial ribbon. “We’re going to have the students come up and do the cutting for us,” said Michael Jordan, chairman of the board of trustees of the hospital.
Jordan Moran, director of the Highlands Hospital Autism Center/School, said she has been at the center since 2013 and became director in 2015, overseeing the old school on Breakneck Road, which had a maximum capacity of 17 students. She said the ribbon cutting at the new site in the former Zachariah Connell Elementary School is a fulfillment of her dream for the program. Moran said everything done at the school is about the children. “I commit to you that we will put their needs first every day,” Moran said.
Moran said the school will open with 24 students and has the capacity to increase to 72 eventually, still just a drop in the bucket of what may be needed in Fayette County.
“In 2010 there were 500 children in Fayette County with autism. I’m sure it is higher now,” Moran said.
The school features an indoor recess area and Moran said it will also include a fundamentals of living area as well as art and music areas, none of which was possible in the cramped facilities on Breakneck Road. Moran said the school and hospital received several major grants, including one from the Highmark Foundation, which made the renovations possible.
The Rev. Bob Lubic, who gave the blessing of the center, actually attended kindergarten in the renovated building which he said he was grateful to see repurposed for the community.
“We are grateful that the good work Highlands Hospital is able to do in autism is going to be able to expand and grow in other areas of wellness for the community,” Lubic said.
The lower level of the building will feature a blended model of care medical wing with primary, gynecological and behavioral health care services in an integrative care environment.
John Andursky, chief executive officer of Highlands Hospital, said the blended care model best meets the needs of the community.“This is going to enhance the services that we provide,” Andursky said. While integrative medicine services such as acupuncture and other alternative therapies not generally covered by the insurance industry will not be offered at this time, Andursky said other elements will be part of the experience for patients.
“Everything is to help in the healing process. The aesthetics are part of it,” said Vicki Meier, the spokeswoman for the hospital. Meier said everything from aromatherapy to the art chosen for the walls is part of the integrative medicine process for the suite of offices which include primary care and gynecological services, including a nurse-midwife and behavioral health services.
BY CHRISTINE HAINES
Christine Haines is a Daily Courier staff writer.
She can be reached at 724- 628-2000, ext. 116,