Mobile boiler parked outside WGH means hospital upgrades
The mobile boiler parked at the east end of Warren General Hospital is not a sign of any problem.
Instead, it’s a symbol of a major series of infrastructure and technology improvements.
Building projects have added to the hospital since it first opened 118 years ago today — Dec. 24, 1900 — as Warren Emergency Hospital, according to historical information provided by Executive Director of Operations Dan Grolemund.
“Part of the building is 66 years old,” Chief Clinical Officer and Chief Nursing Officer Joe Akif said. “You look at this building, back in ’52 we built the main part of the hospital here.”
“The (mobile) boiler we have right now is currently in place because we have an aging boiler,” Akif said. “The hospital has three boilers. One of those boilers that we’re working on is 47 years old.”
“We have an aging facility,” he said. “We’re really working to upgrade some of those systems.”
To make improvements like the one to a half-century-old boiler takes money.
Akif said the hospital has turned itself around, financially over the last four years under the leadership of the board and CEO Rick Allen.
The September opening of the walk-in-care clinic at Warren Commons is another project that was possible due to the financial turn-around. “It’s really helpful for the residents to use that service,” Akif said.
The hospital took a major step when it partnered with Allegheny Health Network, LECOM Health, and Highmark Health in September.
“It helps with an infusion of capital — $9.5 million,” Akif said. “It allows us to undertake some of these major systems and infrastructure projects so that we can bring them more in line with current equipment.”
The capital infusion is allowing for many improvements, but it did not buy the management of the hospital.
“Their role as a silent partner is to help us stay independent, stay community-focused, and bring the best services we can to our community,” Akif said. “I don’t think the community had a stomach for being owned by anybody. Our board really heard that and worked hard to find a partner that would work with us to stay independent.”
“We’re happy three months in. Since we’ve had this arrangement, they’ve been very supportive and they stay out of the everyday operations of the hospital,” he said. “They let our doctors practice the way they feel they need to practice. They let the management team here operate the hospital based on the needs and wishes of the community.”
“As we work through the next year or two, with this, we’ve identified in our first year… a $1.3 million essential task list of projects — core infrastructure,” he said. “Our first projects we’re working on, we’ve identified our boiler and our air-handling units, which are very important in a health care setting. It’s our heating and our cooling. With the air handling, it also works with keeping the air cleansed.”
The boiler project is expected to take months to complete.
The necessity to park a tractor-trailer at the building has meant the loss of some parking at the east end of the building. “We’ve had to reroute some parking,” Grolemund said.
The next stage of the work is the air-handling system. Akif said that work would begin in the winter because the need for cooling is decreased with the cold weather.
The elevators in the building are also on the radar for upgrades in the next year or so.
Stage one is about “making sure that the hospital here is going to be around for another hundred years,” Akif said.
“We’ve been using engineering services to make sure that our resources are being directed in the proper way with the new items that are being added to the facility,” Grolemund said.
With the structural concerns in hand, the projects will move to functional and technological improvements.
“The community was very much responsible for the Cancer Center,” he said. “A capital campaign was done, rather quickly, to bring that service to Warren.”
“That’s 15 years old,” Akif said. “We have a radiation oncology department with a linear accelerator — that’s the primary piece of equipment that provides services to patients in need of radiation and allows patients to stay here in Warren and not have to go to Erie, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, wherever.”
“We’re fortunate we have a radiation oncologist, Dr. Eden, who is taking the lead in bringing a brand new linear accelerator to Warren,” Akif said.
A new linear accelerator costs anywhere from $2.5 million to $5 million.
“It’s a big project,” Akif said. “But, it’s a vital service that the community has asked for.”
“We’re excited because it does help with certain types of disease processes — you go from 55 treatments down to five treatments,” he said. “It shows you where the technology has come in the last 10 years.”
“That will be huge for the residents of Warren,” he said. “The thrust there is to keep people in Warren. After you have services done, you don’t have to drive two hours, three hours. It keeps patients closer to family and their support networks.”
There are other projects in the works that will allow patients to receive care locally that has previously required travel.
“We’re having a new outpatient wound clinic opening February of 2019,” Grolemund said. “Hyperbaric oxygen chambers.”
“We have a lot of diabetic patients in Warren County that need these types of services,” he said. “This will keep the care local. It will save a trip to Erie or Buffalo for our patients.”
When the Pennsylvania General Assembly formalizes some rules regarding telemedicine, the hospital will move forward with those kinds of opportunities. Akif said having Rep. Kathy Rapp as the chair of the House Health and Human Services Committee helps ensure that the needs of rural and community hospitals will be represented in that legislation.
The kinds of services that are particularly suited to telemedicine include “psychiatric, neurologic, dermatologic services,” he said.
The next step is to update a critical hospital-wide system that is more than a decade old.
“The cardiac monitoring system in our emergency department, our intensive care units, our operating rooms, all of our patient care areas, that system currently is 12 years old,” Akif said. “By Feb. 1, we’ll be replacing that system throughout the entire hospital — state of the art cardiac monitoring services provided here in Warren.”
“We’ll be updating our maternity department in the coming months,” Grolemund said.
“Everything that we’re doing now shows our commitment to the community,” Grolemund said. It’s a “more active approach. We’re trying to be really engaged.”