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Highlands Hospital securing its future

Despite serving a high number of uninsured and underinsured patients, Connellsville's Highlands Hospital continues to modernize and update services.

The hospital has 71 beds, including 31 behavioral health beds.

John Andursky, chief financial officer, said the 22 percent to 24 percent of the population Highlands serves receives medical assistance "which doesn't cover the cost of care."

As a result, the hospital loses 8 cents for every dollar of net patient revenues received.

"Between 10 and 12 percent of our care is uncompensated: charity care or free care and bad debts," he said. "Some patients are underinsured. There are some uninsured patients who don't meet our guidelines for charity."

Andursky said the hospital will provide about $2.5 million in uncompensated care this year. "That's significant, because our net revenues are $24 million."

But Highlands has been proactive in the face of uncompensated services.

"We started a hospitalist program in January," Andursky said. "Our two hospitalists are physicians who are inpatient specialists. They have had a positive impact. They speed recovery. Patients are discharged to their primary care physicians who follow up with the hospitalist. The primary care physicians find it's more efficient to follow up. They are freed from making rounds. We have electronic records to keep everything updated. It has had a positive impact on patient volumes."

Highlands hopes to increase revenue with a new facility slated to open in September. The Highlands Hospital Autism Center, modeled on the Cleveland Clinic's program, will be regional and eventually serve up to 30 students.

"They will start with about eight students," Andursky said. The facility will operate 12 months a year. School districts will pay the tuition for their students to attend. The center has entered into a partnership with California University of Pennsylvania to train teachers.

Andursky said Highlands already has contracts with several school districts.

Grants also help Highlands expand.

The autism center has received funding from Connellsville Industrial Enterprises, Fayette County MH/MR, the state Department of Public Welfare through Sen. Richard Kasunic contributed to securing the land and constructing the building, the Wal-Mart Foundation and other sources, Andursky said.

The hospital itself received $600,000 from the federal government in 2009 through the late Rep. John Murtha. The money went toward emergency department improvements, including a new heating, ventilation and air conditioning system to reduce infection risk.

One advantage Highlands has over many hospitals that serve a high percentage of uninsured patients, Andursky said, is "we have no bond debt."

Additional Information:

New facility

Highlands hopes to increase revenue with a new facility slated to open in September. The Highlands Hospital Autism Center, modeled on the Cleveland Clinic's program, will be regional and eventually serve up to 30 students.

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