Windber Medical Center is exploring options for a “strategic relationship” with another health system.
President and CEO Barbara Cliff said in a telephone interview Monday that she and board Chairman David Klementik sent a letter to employees updating them on various Windber projects. Included was the statement that the board has embarked on seeking a strategic relationship.
“While our hopes are to remain as independent as possible, we believe that we can be stronger with some type of a partnership,” the letter states.
Cliff said this does not mean a merger.
“We are seeking a partnership,” she said. “We are evaluating different opportunities. We want to remain as independent as possible.”
The hospital board is planning meetings with staff. A community meeting for the public is tentatively scheduled for June 18 at the Arcadia Theater in Windber. The time of the community meeting has not been set, but it will be held in the evening.
“The purpose of the June meeting is to give the community a state of the hospital report, where we’ve come from and where we are going,” she said. “We are a community hospital and we have been for 107 years. The goal is to remain an acute care hospital serving our community.”
Klementik said in a telephone interview that the board is not talking with any institution on a close basis. But the hospital board has the same concerns as those representing other community hospitals: It doesn’t want to find that the two pillars of this region, Highmark, which has received approval to take over the West Penn Allegheny Health System, and UPMC, the dominant network, have moved into a position where they may direct all patients to their institutions.
Windber Medical Center is not going to be offering advanced care like open heart surgery but still must be in a position to make referrals. Community hospitals cannot be shut out of the insurance and governmental reimbursement process, he said.
“This would not be a partnership but an affiliation for the purposes of assuring we are not precluded from insurance and other reimbursement,” Klementik said. “There is a lot of room to work in these relationships.”
All community hospital boards must be concerned about decreasing revenue, he said. Now is the time for them to find ways to make the economics work.
“I’ve been doing critical thinking: What does the world want from community hospitals and want is the role of community hospitals?” he said. “We provide personal, high-quality care and emergency care, and refer people on when we need. We’ve got our eyes and ears open to assure our future.”
Cliff said she would estimate that 100 percent of hospitals in Pennsylvania are in similar discussions unless they already have partnerships. Ron Park, president and CEO of Somerset Hospital, which is also an independent hospital, could not be reached for comment.
Other things are in the works for Windber Medical Center. The new multi-specialty professional building recently opened. Cliff said it will bring more physicians and services to the hospital.
“The emergency room project is not just an emergency room project,” Cliff said. “This is a campus-wide facilities plan.”
Although the obstetrics services was discontinued, the hospital is expanding on services provided at the Joyce Murtha Breast Care Center by adding Joyce Murtha Woman’s Care Services. A ribbon-cutting ceremony and open house will be held soon.
But as for now, nothing has been determined as to the hospital partnership.
“We want our employees to know that we too are seeking available opportunities to drive our own future,” she said.