Foundation still giving even as its work ends in Jeannette

| Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013, 8:58 p.m.

The Jeannette District Memorial Hospital may be gone, but thanks to the foundation board, its legacy will still live on in the community.

Jeannette District Memorial Hospital was opened in 1959 by the Sisters of Charity at Seton Hill. The hospital was purchased by Excela Health in 2007 and was closed by Excela in 2011.

In 1984, the silver anniversary year of the hospital, a foundation was formed to assist the Sisters of Charity in the operation of the hospital. Adolph R. Bartolomucci was the founder and chairperson of the board for many years.

According to the 1998 annual fundraiser program book, the purpose of the foundation was, “to raise, manage, invest and distribute charitable donations for the support of the hospital. The Jeannette Hospital Foundation's goal is to secure constant sources of income so that Jeannette District Memorial Hospital can continue to provide the type of health care services the community needs, expects and deserves.”

Shirley Wong, a registered nurse and the wife of Dr. Kevin Wong, who was on staff at Jeannette Hospital and who is currently on staff at both Forbes Regional Hospital and Excela, began co-chairing the annual fall/winter fundraising events held by the hospital foundation board in 1997, which included several art shows and auctions as well as themed high-end basket auctions.

By 1999, Shirley Wong had joined the hospital foundation board of directors and by 2000, she had become the board chairperson, and is still working in that role although the foundation is technically closed.

After the hospital was closed, the foundation had to become a community foundation in order to keep the remaining approximately $1 million in funds secure for disbursement.

“We knew it (the foundation) would be limited and we were very frugal and focused,” Wong said. “We took our time in deciding what to do with the remaining funds. We did not want to make any rush decisions and we wanted to be thorough and carry out the mission of the hospital. People were so incredibly supportive and extremely generous to the foundation over the years. It has been such an honor to do this and very much appreciated. The community never let the hospital down.”

According to Wong, since Jeannette Hospital served such a large area outside the City of Jeannette, which included Hempfield, Penn Township, North Huntingdon, Irwin, Greensburg and as far away as Sewickley Township, the decision on how to disperse the funds was not easy.

“After a lot of thinking, soul searching and praying we (the board) choose entities that would be the most in touch with the community,” said Wong.

The awards were given to the Jeannette EMS, the Irwin Volunteer Fire Department, North Huntingdon Rescue 8, Penn Township Rescue 6, Adamsburg Rescue 14, Sewickley Township Ambulance, the Jeannette Public Library, the Sisters of Charity, Catholic Charities, and the PACT Program.

The funds were restricted and in the case of the emergency services, the funds had to be used for capital medical equipment such as ambulances or other things that were used for the provision of care.

The award to the Jeannette Public Library was to be used only for computer equipment related to the implementation of a health literacy program developed by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. This program is designed for the elderly, of which Jeannette has a high population. The PACT Program, which is a teen pregnancy prevention program which services Westmoreland County, but is also located in Jeannette, received an award as well to assist with the needs of mothers and babies.

The Catholic Charities award was restricted to be used only for the healthcare of people with mental health issues who were indigent and in need. Wong said that the board felt strongly that an award should also be made to the Sisters of Charity at Seton Hill, “In honor and appreciation of their commitment to the hospital and the community. They answered the call.”

That award was restricted to the healthcare needs of the infirm and retired.

One year after the awards, Jeannette Librarian Hope Sehring said, “The grant from the Mercy Jeannette Hospital Foundation to Jeannette Public Library made an immediate impact on the people borrowing health titles from the library's collection. We are now able to add these often expensive items to our collection for loan in Jeannette as well as throughout Pennsylvania. Through the generosity of the (foundation) we launched a new webpage further allowing access to this collection for the public. Overhead lighting improvements were made as well as filtering software for our Wi-Fi. All purchases of health related materials will be ongoing and done in the name of the Mercy Jeannette Hospital Foundation.

“Without their funding these improvements for our patrons would not have been possible. Our gratitude to this foundation is ongoing.”

Jeannette EMS purchased a power stretcher with the awarded funds.

“It (the power stretcher) helps tremendously,” Emergency Medical Technician Michael Luke said. “It saves our backs and cuts out a lot of lifting. We wish we had them in all of our ambulances.”

Paramedic Heather Highberger said, “It is a lot safer for the patients.”

According to several local studies in the United States, power stretchers can save local emergency medical service operations hundreds of thousands of dollars in workmen's compensation claims which increase department efficiency and ensure better service to the community.

The current board of the Jeannette District Memorial Hospital Foundation includes Shirley Wong, chairperson, Edith Marchetti, vice-chair, Beverly Hahn, secretary, and Morrison Lewis Jr., treasurer. The board is currently in the process of dealing with the legalities of closing the foundation permanently, but according to Wong are grateful to have been able to make an impact on the community.

Margie Stanislaw is a freelance writer.

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