Highmark unveils plans for Forbes Regional

| Thursday, Jan. 5, 2012

Highmark Inc. is making an initial $20 million investment in Forbes Regional Hospital, including an upgrade to trauma center status, as part of its acquisition of the West Penn Allegheny Health System.

"West Penn Allegheny and its affiliated hospitals are vital community resources that play a critical role in the health and economic vitality of this region," Kenneth R. Melani, M.D., Highmark's CEO, said Wednesday.

As announced Wednesday, Highmark's investment in the "community resource" along Haymaker Road in Monroeville would be extensive renovation of units throughout the hospital, which opened in 1978.

Medical and surgical units on the fourth and sixth floors would be renovated. A comprehensive breast care center would be opened, as would a third cardiovascular surgery operating room.

"Our goal at Forbes has always been to meet this community's needs," said Mark Rubino, M.D., chief medical officer at the hospital.

There also would be an upgrade to "Level 2" trauma center status. It would be the only such center between trauma units in Pittsburgh and Johnstown.

"The process is beginning right now," Highmark executive vice president Daniel J. Lebish, M.D., said.

"We will be investing $2 million immediately," Forbes president and CEO Reese Jackson said.

The unit would have to be in operation for a full year before it receives accreditation from the Pennsylvania Trauma Systems Foundation, something that is eyed "in the 2013-2014 time frame," Lebish said.

Trauma units at Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center in Johnstown and Allegheny General Hospital, UPMC Mercy and UPMC Presbyterian in Pittsburgh are accredited as "Adult Level 1" units, according to the Pennsylvania Trauma Systems Foundation.

UPMC's Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh is a "Pediatric Level 1" unit.

Jackson said an "Adult Level 2" unit meets the same standards as a "Level 1" but doesn't do research.

"It is definitely a positive step," said White Oak EMS Chief Paul Falavolito, one of numerous first responders who joined community leaders and hospital staff for the announcement.

WPAHS officials said Forbes is a 350-bed hospital that annually admits more than 14,000 patients, performs nearly 11,000 surgical procedures and logs approximately 50,000 emergency department visits.

"It is one of the busiest emergency rooms in Allegheny County," Rubino said.

Forbes also has a cardiac care center, a certified program to deal with strokes and a maternity unit.

"These are services that our new competition down the street will not offer," Rubino said, referring to UPMC East, a hospital scheduled for completion later this year.

White Oak EMS sends 25-30 percent of its patients to Forbes, while more of those patients will go to UPMC McKeesport.

"It is always a win-win for patients when we add more resources, for both hospitals," Falavolito said. It was a common sentiment among many of those in attendance.

"It is great to make sure that we have viability in our health care facilities," Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said. "That we have competition. That we don't have just one provider."

"Competition is what made our country great, and it should be good, constructive competition," Allegheny County Council president Dr. Charles Martoni, D-Swissvale, said.

Martoni also is president of Boyce Campus of Community College of Allegheny County in Monroeville, where students attend nursing and allied health courses.

"We have a relationship with Forbes and with UPMC," Martoni said. "Our kids have to go to all those hospitals. We're welcome everywhere and we produce some really good people."

Also planned for Forbes are new signs and exterior landscaping, and aesthetic upgrades to many patient and visitor areas, including waiting rooms and the hospital's cafeteria.

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