Highlands Services Will Grow

Mark Norman and John Andursky
Shown in image: John Andursky (left), Highlands Hospital CEO, welcomed Mark Norman, Penn Highlands Healthcare System chief operating officer to a recent Rotary meeting. Photo by Roxanne Abramowitz | The Daily Courier

Connellsville hospital will become part of Penn Highlands Healthcare System on April 1

“Rural health care is different. You have to be very innovative in rural America in health care these days.” That’s what Mark Norman, Penn Highlands Healthcare chief operating officer, told Connellsville Rotary Club members during a recent meeting.

In December, Highlands Hospital and Penn Highlands Healthcare signed an agreement to integrate the Connellsville hospital into the Dubois-based health care system.The deal is expected to take effect April 1, Norman said, and Highlands Hospital will become Penn Highlands ‘Connellsville.

Penn Highlands operates seven hospitals — Penn Highlands Brookville; Penn Highlands Clearfield, a Campus of Penn Highlands Du- Bois; Penn Highlands DuBois; Penn Highlands Elk; Penn Highlands Huntingdon; Penn Highlands Mon Valley; and Penn Highlands Tyrone. It operates more than 150 clinics and office sites throughout Northwestern/Central and Southwestern Pennsylvania.

With the acquisition of Mon Valley Hospital near Monongahela and Highlands Hospital, the health system continues to grow, Norman said. “We cover a wide geography,” he said.

The system was established in 2011 when Brookville, Clearfield and Dubois came together. Huntingdon and Tyrone were subsequently added, as was Elk, then MonValley.
Highlands will work closely with Mon Valley to expand services in the area. Penn Highlands believes it is important to be in all aspects of health care, Norman said.

In addition to hospitals, Penn Highlands operates three home-care agencies, approximately 150 clinics – including seven community medical buildings with multi-specialty services – eight community pharmacies and a network of employed physicians to provide primary, secondary and tertiary health care services. It has five long-term care facilities, providing skilled nursing, personal care and senior-living communities. The system offers a wide range of care and treatments, with specialty units for cancer, cardiovascular/ thoracic, lung, brain, spine, neonatal and high-risk pregnancy services.

Norman said the system is expanding behavioral health programs. “There is such a need, and that’s something we do well here in Connellsville. We see that as an extension of our behavioral-health system,” Norman said. As the program expands, the health care system will offer more than 200 behavioral health care beds, he said. Citing service gaps locally, Penn Highlands will recruit to help fill those gaps, Norman said.

In other facilities, the system closed such gaps, leading to service and revenue increases, he said, adding system officials are developing a physical demand model to identify gaps locally.
Norman called the “Bring it Home” program as a source of pride. It is an effort to recruit medical students to their hometowns. “There is not a better person than someone from the hometown,” Norman said. “You know that they are a good fit. What attracts people to staying local is that they know they are being cared for by local people they know. They trust them.”

Norman said Penn Highlands prides itself on keeping services local “because we think that’s what people really want.” Penn Highlands is a “very independent-minded system,” he said. “We operate rural hospitals better than big systems,” Norman said. “We know how critical it is to have good services in the local community. It’s an economic driver. If you don’t have a local hospital, the community suffers.” Small, independent hospitals struggle because they can’t afford to employ all the providers they need, he said. By working through the system, hospitals work together and share resources, allowing them to become more efficient. Streamlining and centralizing services and working together are important. “We know we are going to be small rural hospitals, but collectively we come together and can control our own destinies,” Norman said.

The hospital system operates under a huband spoke model. For example, Dubois is the hub, with the smaller hospitals surrounding it as spokes, he explained. Penn Highlands officials see Mon Valley as the hub and Connellsville being one of the spokes in this area.

He said planning is under way to develop a strategic plan for growing this area. Norman said the system will continue to grow services and put money into the facilities. “How to run a great system is great strategic planning, focus on the right things,” he said, adding the goal is to eliminate duplication and prioritize efficiency, recruitment, productivity and consolidation of some hospital activities. Norman said officials want to expand surgery services at Highlands, something that ties into recruitment of physicians needed to provide the service. Norman said some of Highlands’ facilities are dated. At some point, improvements will be needed. He said work will be prioritized.

Norman said Highlands’ autism center is unique to the hospital. “We see it as a very great program and a great service,” and Penn Highlands will strive to grow the service.

Highlands will continue to have its local board, Norman said. Two members of the Highlands board will be represented on the Penn Highlands System board. He said Penn Highlands believes in the importance of hospitals having local voices.