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Highmark deal to infuse Forbes with $20 million of improvements

| Wednesday, May 8, 2013, 8:34 p.m.
Lillian DeDomenic | For The Times Express
Officials expect Forbes Regional Hospital in Monroeville to be officially designated as a trauma center by fall of this year. In preparation for this, the hospital has been updating its trauma unit with new equipment, redesigned patient rooms and new technology. Keilla Schmidt, doctor of trauma surgery, and Lois Blough, director of the trauma unit, talk with Dr. Mark Taylor in one of the new patient trauma rooms.

Four days after the announcement of a landmark deal between Highmark Insurance and West Penn Allegheny Health System, Dr. Mark Taylor said he was “still glowing.”

Taylor is chief of anesthesia at Forbes Regional Hospital, where Highmark has invested $20 million toward improvements as part of the health insurer's $1.1 billion purchase of West Penn Allegheny Health System.

“I think our biggest change in the last two years since the Highmark deal started to come together — and really in the seven years since I've been here — is that we're really a tertiary-care hospital in a community setting,” Taylor said.

“There's no need for patients to have to go downtown. The specialists from downtown have come out here.”

Renovations to the medical/surgical unit include bare floors in lieu of carpet, private rooms that have proven more comfortable for patients and a recently purchased five-armed robot, which makes some surgical procedures less invasive.

“That keeps us in step with changes,” said Forbes President and CEO Reese Jackson. “Robotic surgeries are becoming more and more common.”

Students from North American Martyrs School — a Catholic school just down the street from the hospital — named the robot RALPH, which stands for Remember to Always Love Patients and Help, said Forbes spokeswoman Maria Synan.

Four surgeons were added to the emergency department, as hospital officials work toward becoming accredited as a Level-2 Trauma center by October, Synan said. The hospital also opened a breast cancer center, which offers the latest in technology for diagnosing breast cancer.

The center is helping to ease the transition for patients from diagnosis to treatment, Jackson said.

While many of the improvements address patient care, changes to the outside of the building should help to bolster the hospital's identity, Jackson said.

For example, the massive blue Forbes sign at the top of the building.

“We've been tucked away over here,” Jackson said. “You know, UPMC East is fairly visible, even from the turnpike, so we did want to improve our visibility.”

Forbes Regional Hospital is just one of multiple area hospitals owned by WPAHS. It will be a challenge for Highmark to “make West Penn work,” said Steve Foreman, associate professor of health care administration at Robert Morris University in Moon.

Foreman said the insurer probably will be blamed for any adverse events that occur, such as increasing health premiums, failure to contract with UPMC and/or the closure of multiple community hospitals.

Highmark CEO, Dr. William Winkenwerder, said WPAHS not only will survive but that it will be revitalized.

Monroeville Manager Lynette McKinney said the renovations at Forbes are a win for the municipality.

“The Municipality of Monroeville will continue to benefit with great jobs and phenomenal healthcare,” McKinney said. “We are thrilled that the hospital will be financially viable for years to come.”

Kyle Lawson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8755, or klawson@tribweb.com. Staff writers Alex Nixon and Luis Fábregas contributed to this report.

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