The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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June 18, 2013

Windber Medical Center goal: Stay independent

WINDBER — Hospital leaders knew there were those in the audience who expected to hear an announcement that Windber Medical Center would close or merge with a larger system.

“What you heard, I hope, was just the opposite,” Chairman David Klementic said after the hospital’s annual community meeting on Tuesday.

“We are going to remain the Windber community’s hospital as long as it’s in the cards,” he continued.

It won’t be easy, hospital President and CEO Barbara Cliff said after a guest speaker outlined challenges all hospitals are facing with federal health care reform and deficit reduction initiatives.

“Being small, we can’t do everything on our own,” Cliff told about 100 people who attended the program in Arcadia Theater. “We are exploring strategic partnerships. Our goal is to continue to be as independent as we can, but also to continue to be an acute care hospital in Windber.”

Discussions are ongoing with several organizations, she said, explaining that leaders are exploring various affiliations and cooperative programs, but are not ready to move forward with any.

 “We just want you to know this is something we are exploring,” Cliff said. “We need you and you need us.”

She encouraged the Windber community to support its hospital by volunteering, donating money and participating in fundraisers.

But most importantly, neighbors can support the hospital by using its services for their health care needs, she stressed.

Cliff also announced that the fundraising is complete and the long-awaited emergency department renovation and enlargement project will begin later this summer.

The first step will renovate the recently closed obstetrics unit to be the new home for critical care beds. That move will free the old critical care area to be backfilled with emergency department operations, which will also expand into a new addition to be built.

“We believe this is critical to our hospital and our community,” Cliff said.

She referred to statistics and projections included earlier in Tuesday’s program during a presentation by Timothy Ohrum, director of legislative services for the Hospital and Healthsystems Association of Pennsylvania.

Ohrum charted shifts in the health care business that have increased emergency room and outpatient patient volume, while reducing admissions.

The future, he said, will shift payment from treatments and procedures to preventing illness, commending Windber for being ahead of many hospitals with its HealthStyles wellness center and Planetree focus on mind, body and spirit.

“This community has done it,” Ohrum said. “Cost are coming down, and quality is going up.”

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