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St. Clair Hospital in Mt. Lebanon distinguishes itself

| Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Chief Medical Officer G. Alan Yeasted at St. Clair Hospital on Tuesday, February 4, 2014.
First-ever patient at St. Clair Hospital in 1954
What the first-ever patient looks like today
St. Clair Hospital in 1954
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
A 'then and now' photo from St. Clair Hospital on Tuesday, February 4, 2014.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
A 'then and now' photo from St. Clair Hospital on Tuesday, February 4, 2014.
St. Clair Hospital
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
A 'then and now' photo of nursing staff at St. Clair Hospital on Tuesday, February 4, 2014.
The St.Clair Hospital ER
St. Clair Hospital nurses wearing old-timey nurses' caps and dresses

St. Clair Hospital opened 60 years ago in Mt. Lebanon to give residents of the rapidly expanding South Hills a closer alternative to hospitals in the city.

Today, officials say its success and continued independence are dependent upon providing good service in a more convenient location to the suburbs.

The hospital opened on Feb. 22, 1954, after 10 years of planning and fundraising, with the intent of providing hospital services to suburbs that were booming with post-World-War-II families.

While major Pittsburgh hospitals formed the UPMC and Allegheny Health Network systems and expand into the suburbs, St. Clair works to distinguish itself by offering the latest technology, convenient locations and strong ties to the surrounding community, said Dr. G. Alan Yeasted, St. Clair's chief medical officer.

“Location and convenience are fine, but if you don't have the quality and technology, people aren't going to come even if you're right next door,” Yeasted said. “If we didn't have that, we'd still be just a small community hospital.”

Dr. Arthur S. Haines conceived the idea of the hospital in 1941 as a way to cut out the 45-minute travel time from the South Hills to Pittsburgh. A Women's Hospital Auxiliary helped run fundraising efforts to build it.

Today, local philanthropy is very important in keeping the hospital running, Yeasted said.

“It's still pretty much a grassroots foundation,” he said, noting that current hospital supporters include many Pittsburgh business owners and executives living in the South Hills. Those fundraisers supported a series of projects over the hospital's history that expanded it from 104 beds in 1954 to 328 beds today.

St. Clair serves approximately 287,000 patients per year, with 2,200 employees and 550 physicians, said spokesman Bob Crytzer. The hospital's annual operating budget is around $280 million.

Leaders have touted the hospital's high ratings for patient satisfaction, such as its inclusion in the Thomson Reuters Top 100 list of hospitals in 2012 based on its efficiency, outcomes and satisfaction ratings.

Judith Lave, professor of health economics at the University of Pittsburgh, said strong leadership, good patient care and good contracts with insurers likely are keys to helping St. Clair thrive.

“It's really important that they are a well-run, well-respected hospital,” she said. She noted that the hospital's smaller size makes it easier to use and more comfortable than a big, busy hospital such as UPMC Presbyterian in Oakland.

“Compared to the size of Presby, it may be a more hospitable place to receive your care,” Lave said.

Yeasted said the hospital has benefited from stable leadership: It has had just three CEOs in its entire history, and many long-serving members on its board of directors. That helped bring a consistent vision and strategy for the hospital, without letting it become stagnant, he said.

One board strategy has been emphasizing cardiac care, including a Coronary Intensive Care Unit added in 1967, a cardiac catheterization lab in 1991, and a Heart Center in 1998.

Those provided services that previously weren't available locally, and made it possible for someone in the South Hills with a cardiac emergency, such as a heart attack, to make it to a hospital faster, Yeasted said.

As advances in technology and changes in reimbursements for medical care made more procedures happen on an “outpatient” basis, the hospital opened its Outpatient Center in Bethel Park's Village Square in 2002, and a new outpatient center in Peters in 2013. In partnership with UPMC, the hospital opened and later expanded a cancer treatment center Yeasted called the region's busiest outside of UPMC's own Hillman Cancer Center in Shadyside.

“We saw early on that outpatient care was going to be the future of healthcare,” he said. “That's been very successful for us. As payment models changed, we were prepared.”

St. Clair will hold a private anniversary celebration for its employees and physicians at a date to be determined, and will incorporate a 60th anniversary theme into its annual Summer Swing fundraiser July 18 at the St. Clair Country Club, Crytzer said.

Matthew Santoni is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5625 or msantoni@tribweb.com.

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