Highlands Faces Virus Woes; Keeps Evolving

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