Excela to close Jeannette hospital, could tear it down

| Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2011

Excela Health will close its Jeannette facility by Jan. 31 and may raze the former community hospital.

In announcing the closure yesterday, health system officials cited as factors declining patient numbers, the costs of operating the aging facility and a shift in patient preference toward "medical malls" that offer more complete medical services.

Diagnostic services provided in Jeannette will be shifted to an expanded facility at Norwin Medical Commons in North Huntingdon. A 7,200-square-foot expansion will transform that location into a "medical mall," with additional diagnostic imaging, diagnostic cardiology, laboratory procedures and space for additional physician's offices.

Diagnostic testing and QuikCare urgent care center services will no longer be provided in Jeannette after Jan. 31, said Robert J. Rogalski, Excela Health CEO. The medical office building, physicians' offices and paramedic station will remain in Jeannette.

"This decision was made very carefully," Rogalski said. "We understand the Jeannette community has seen some difficult times recently, but our building there is being underutilized and costs hundreds of thousands of dollars each month to keep open."

Ron Ott, hospital president, said patient visits have steadily declined in Jeannette but are on the rise at Norwin Medical Commons.

"Adding more diagnostic services there will make the facility a better choice for patients who will find a greater variety of health care options available in that one location," he said.

Rogalski says expanding the medical mall concept at Norwin is part of a growing trend. "We have seen a shift in patient preference to facilities of this type," he said. "This addresses the needs of the patients in one of the fastest-growing sections of Westmoreland County."

Health system personnel yesterday discussed the transition with the 86 employees at the Jeannette facility. Ott said about 15 jobs will be eliminated.

"As a result of these changes, some employees will no longer be employed by Excela Health," Ott said. "However, as we transition these services, some employees will have the opportunity to move within the organization to similar positions or other positions for which they are qualified."

Construction planning will begin immediately on the newly expanded Norwin facility. An opening is set for later this year.

The fate of the Jeannette building has not been determined.

"We welcome discussions with anyone in the community who feels they have an appropriate use for the building and will be working with the mayor and community leaders to determine what this might be," Ott said. "If no one comes forward in the next several months, however, we are prepared to raze the building so that it is not a burden to the city of Jeannette."

Jeannette Mayor Robert Carter said he was saddened by the news.

"I know it's a business decision made by Excela Health, but it's a sad day in the city of Jeannette, losing another large structure or facility in our community," Carter said yesterday. "We'll have a vacant building. Hopefully, something positive will come out of this, and we can get it utilized and back on the tax rolls."

The changes will leave a city that once had two hospitals with none. Monsour Medical Center closed in 2006.

The Jeannette hospital was founded in 1959 by the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill. In 2003, Jeannette District Memorial Hospital became part of the Pittsburgh Mercy Health System and Catholic Health East.

The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center did not pick up the hospital when it merged with Pittsburgh Mercy Health System in 2007, and the Jeannette facility became part of Excela Health.

In March, the Jeannette facility was converted to a full-service care center, shifting its focus to outpatient diagnostic and imaging services.

Carter said he has talked with Ott about the future of the facility.

"He assured me they're still willing to work with the city of Jeannette to do something with the property so it doesn't become an eyesore," Carter said. "It may be a sad day in Jeannette, but we will survive. We have faced tough challenges, but Jeannette is a strong community."

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