ShareThis Page

Highlands pursues session with Fayette officials

| Friday, March 1, 2013, 10:48 a.m.
Employees (from left) Pam Philburn, Karen Blocker and Marcy Ozorowski sign a petition circulating Highlands Hospital, collecting signatures for the Fayette County Commissioners to meet with hospital administration. Highlands Hospital administration wants to discuss the awarding of a Value Behavioral Contract to another facility in Fayette and what economic impact it has on Highlands Hospital as well as the Connellsville Area. Evan R. Sanders | Daily Courier

The conditions for a meeting that Highlands Hospital administrators seek with Fayette County officials regarding a Value Behavioral Health contract awarded to Uniontown Hospital remain under apparent debate.

Highlands employees have demonstrated at Connellsville City Council and attended two county commissioners' meetings, expressing concerns about hospital employees' job security. Workers recently began a petition drive.

“We the undersigned, urge the commissioners of Fayette County to immediately schedule a meeting with the administration of Highlands Hospital to discuss the process of the awarding of another VBH contract within the county and its economic impact on our facility and community,” the petition reads.

Marcy Ozorowski, a Highlands employee, recently presented the commissioners with a copy of the petition containing 500 signatures.

In an email, she characterized the requested meeting as “private.”

“We don't need our competition there,” she said.

A drop in inpatient admissions has forced Highlands Hospital to cut employee hours, Ozorowski said.

“We are the second-largest employer in the city. The economic impact on the loss of jobs would be devastating,” she said.

Highlands CEO Michelle Cunningham and spokeswoman Vickie Meier did not return calls requesting comment.

Hospital administrators and legal counsel have sought to meet with the commissioners without Uniontown Hospital representatives.

Highlands Hospital contends that the March contract between Virginia-based Value Behavioral Health and Uniontown Hospital was improperly awarded because commissioners didn't approve it. Highlands previously had been the county's exclusive provider of the services through the HealthChoices program.

Highlands Hospital attorney Dan Rullo said commissioners have indicated that they will meet with Highlands' representatives only if Uniontown Hospital representatives are present.

“We have issues we would like to address. Uniontown Hospital has no role in those discussions,” Rullo said.

“I have advised (the commissioners) this should be a public meeting,” Fayette County solicitor Ken Burkley said on Thursday. “My understanding is the commissioners would like to have it all hashed out in public.”

Melissa Mekewsky, chief counsel with the Pennsylvania News Media Association, said that any time a quorum or more of an elected body is present and discussing agency business, the Sunshine Act applies and requires a public meeting.

“Moreover, even if the Sunshine Act did not apply, a private meeting between the county commissioners and a business in the community could give the appearance of impropriety or preferential treatment, and most elected officials would not readily agree in light of that consideration,” Mekewsky said in an email.

Attorney Lawrence J. Tabas, counsel for the HealthChoices program, told commissioners the contract “is consistent with, and does conform to, the applicable legal requirements for provider contracting for the program.”

He said that contract, “just as all other provider contracts for the program, does not require county commissioner approval” because the county is not a party to those agreements.

Burkley said the commissioners “had nothing to do with” the contract.

An attorney who investigated for Highlands concluded proper procedures were not followed.

In an earlier letter to Burkley, Rullo termed the “Tabas memorandum” a “shield for the commissioners to not take official action in ... ratification or approval” of the contract.

Rullo, the attorney for Highlands in the case, said he will present hospital board members with information he has sought from the county through the Freedom of Information Act regarding the contract.

The board will determine if they are willing to meet with county officials, he said, “under restricted” conditions.

Mary Pickels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-5401 or

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.