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More than a century old, Highlands Hospital remains focused on patients

| Tuesday, March 19, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Lori C. Padilla | For the Daily Courier
Highlands Hospital is a locally owned hospital of more than 70 beds in Connellsville. It was the first of eight state-owned hospitals to go private. Highlands Hospital now operates as an independent, not-for-profit acute care hospital, constantly striving to keep quality care and leading-edge technology available to residents in the Connellsville area.
Lori C. Padilla | For the Daily Courier
Highlands Hospital CFO John Andursky (seated) and IT director Ed Messenger go over some daily information.
Lori C. Padilla | For the Daily Courier
Vic Gasbarro (left) and Dr. Gerry Perez take advantage of the treadmills in the hospital’s John P. Murtha Wellness Center. The center is open to the public, and monthly memberships are available.

Small rural hospitals are invaluable assets in the communities they serve.

Highlands Hospital, the locally-owned and operated facility of more than 70 beds in the picturesque Laurel Highlands continues to identify opportunities to remain viable and provide quality patient care, like it has done for more than 100 years.

Highlands now has hospitalists, physicians whose primary professional focus is the general medical care of hospitalized patients. In the event their personal physician is not available for hospital consultations, patients coming through the Emergency Room requiring admission can be admitted rather than transferred to other facilities.

Hospitalists admit patients, check on those patients in the hospital, manage their care and discharge hospitalized patients of Highlands Hospital physicians who have chosen to limit their practice to their offices.

They have a consistent presence in the hospital, allowing other physicians to spend their time seeing patients in their office, officials noted.

By focusing their practices on the care of hospitalized patients, hospitalists gains a great deal of experience and expertise in the unique aspects of a patients' needs during hospital stays. Hospitalists typically spend most or all of their days in the hospital, and are readily available to patients.

Highlands' Hospitalist Program continues to expand its services by adding staff, according to John Andursky, chief financial officer.

Highlands Hospital has announced the appointment of certified registered nurse practitioner Dave Kieta to join the Hospitalist Program under the direction of Dr. Mohammad El-Hillal.

“As a certified nurse practitioner assisting our hospitalists, Dave Kieta plays an extremely important role in keeping the lines of communication open with patients and their primary care physician,” said Michelle Cunningham, Highlands Hospital's chief executive officer.

Kieta has been at Highlands Hospital for 15 years. His roles have included working in the Emergency Department, intake coordinator for Behavioral Health and special procedure nurse. In that role, he assisted physicians with cardiac stress tests and special procedures, as well as patient care and assignments in radiology and generally all other departments within the hospital.

Highlands Hospital is recognized as being one of the longest-running inpatient behavioral health programs in Fayette County and continues to evolve to better meet the total needs of each patient.

The hospital is renovating the Behavioral Health Unit using a loan awarded by the USDA.

Initial planning and design of the center involved the behavioral health staff and hospital leadership. The unit will be designed to encourage healing and be more ascetically pleasing.

“Integrative health modalities such as guided imagery, breathe work, aromatherapy, and drum circles will be incorporated into the philosophy of care that treats the mind, body and spirit of each patient with dignity and respect,” said Vicki Meier, director of development.

The behavioral health services will continue uninterrupted during the construction, which is slated for completion in July.

In addition to these improvements, Cunningham announced several partnerships. One is with East Suburban Obstetrical & Gynecological Association.

ESOGA is an outstanding physician group that has practiced in the Pittsburgh area for more than 25 years, according to Cunningham. In January, ESOGA began seeing Highlands Hospital patients in their office in the Tri-City Medical Complex on Route 119.

Another partnership with Highlands is the Cataract and Laser Center under the direction of Dr. James P. Gallo.

The new on-site Cataract and Laser Center offers the most advanced evaluation and surgical management of cataracts, Cunningham said.

Gallo began treating patients at the office in Highlands Hospital in February. Appointments can now be scheduled by calling 724-628-3937. If diagnosed with cataracts, patients can choose their surgeon and surgery site.

To make it easier to find information about Highland's services, the hospital has a new website. The framework makes quicker navigation possible and clearly directs visitors to the services they're seeking. It is more easily viewed on cellphones and tablets devices, making it ideal for people who need quick reference and contact information, officials noted.

The website is also an opportunity to present Highlands' updated logo to the community. The image references the natural beauty of the Laurel Mountains where Highlands is situated, and incorporates soothing colors often associated with healing, incorporating the words “evolving care ... for life.”

Since the hospital is dedicated to treating the whole person — body, mind, and spirit — the new online format allows users to access expanded explanations of its many centers, including the Regional Center for Autism in collaboration with Cleveland Clinic; PTSD Program in collaboration with Washington & Jefferson College; the sleep, diagnostic Center and diabetes centers; and the John P. Murtha Wellness Center.

The site provides those interested in learning more about Highlands' rich history and grounds with a facilities overview, tracking its inception from 1891 when it was known as Cottage State Hospital.

To make searching specific medical programs more efficient, there is an updated list of conditions that Highlands serves and specializes in, with detailed explanations of the centers and programs associated. An events calendar highlighting community-wide festivities and fundraisers, as well as programming schedules, are available online, as well as a physician directory and contact information for administrators and programs. “Highlands Hospital is an independent, not-for-profit hospital serving Fayette County,” Meier said. “We provide care in a nurturing, healing environment. Our Post Traumatic Stress Disorder program offers comprehensive resources in conjunction with Washington & Jefferson College, and we give residents tools for lifelong health at our John P. Murtha Wellness Center.

“Highlands Hospital Regional Center for Autism offers leading-edge developmental and behavioral care in a private school setting,” she continued. “At Highlands Hospital, quality care is our mission.”

Nancy Henry is a freelance writer.

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