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Warren General prospering despite pandemic

Times Observer photo by Brian Ferry Warren General Hospital CEO Rick Allen speaks during the hospital’s annual board meeting Thursday evening.

Warren General Hospital continues to fight through the COVID-19 pandemic and is showing profitability despite it.

But, that profit is not the goal in and of itself.

“We have turned the bend on profitability, but it’s not about making money,” CEO Rick Allen said during the annual WGH Board Meeting on Thursday. “It’s about making enough money so you can expand and invest.”

“We’re here to deliver health care,” Allen said. “Every dollar we make goes right back into the organization.”

The hospital’s 11.9 percent profit margin for the 2020-2021 fiscal year has allowed for millions of dollars of needed improvements to the facility.

“The organization is doing well,” he said. “We’re not out of the woods yet.”

“Typically, a 100-bed hospital… needs $4 million per year in capital improvements and investment,” Allen said. “During the three, four, five years prior to 2014” the hospital went through a “capital holiday. We didn’t spend anything.”

“We need a lot of years of continued profitability,” he said. “We have about $20 million of needs.”

In the past year, the facility saw $10 million in construction, renovation, and infrastructure improvements.

Among the physical plant improvements were: a new cooling tower; new air handler units; chiller repair; new roof; parking garage repair; fire door replacement; new building controls; new nurse call system; and plumbing and electrical upgrades.

The Cancer Care Center upgrades included a new CT simulator; new roof; and new linear accelerator and vault.

The linear accelerator “is a shining-star service here in Warren County,” Allen said.

Service improvements included 3D mammography; pediatric rehabilitation expansion and renovation; emergency room renovation; and improvements at Warren Medical Group Pleasant and Sugar Grove offices and orthopedic and eye care centers.

There are a number of construction and renovation projects lining up in the near future, including: the east end generator, more roofing, paving, steam repairs, more electrical and plumbing upgrades, a mass communication system, and a sidewalk snow-melt system.

“By this time next year, we will have a brand new maternity unit,” he said.

The hope is to have achieved “stroke center certification” in the emergency room in that same time.

With respect to information technology, “we have over 300 systems here at the hospital,” Allen said. The effort is underway to “merge those systems.”

Living up to the hospital’s vision – “Warren General Hospital is an independent, community-focused hospital delivering ‘world class’ medical care and service through the collaborative efforts of physicians, staff, and volunteers” – is part of making sure the hospital remains profitable.

“This is not about cutting your way to success,” he said. “Expense control and top-line growth.”

The hospital tracks “leakage” – patients that could be treated locally, but go to Erie instead. Bringing those patients back is a matter of provide high-level service, Allen said. “We want the care that can be delivered in Warren… we want to do it very, very well.”

Recruiting has played a major role in delivery of high-quality care.

“We’ll continue to recruit the doctors,” Allen said. “We’re going to focus on bringing more nurses here.”

COVID

“We are deep into COVID,” Allen said. “We continue with all of the precautions.”

Like many aspects of life, COVID took longer to reach Warren County than other places. When it did, it arrived in full measure. “The staff responded in an expert manner,” Allen said. “There’s no playbook, but, man, did we fight hard.”

“That continues to this day,” he said. “I’m very proud of our staff.”

“At our peak, we were seeing 18 new COVID-positive patients per day,” he said. “On the third floor, we have six rooms that can be completely isolated and have negative pressure.”

Those numbers didn’t match up.

“We had to start scrambling and figure out ‘how can we deliver the best care,'” Allen said.

The problem has changed.

The hospital currently has very few COVID-positive patients. “We’re filled with other patients,” Allen said. “Some days we struggle with ‘can we get patients transferred,'” because other hospitals are also filled.

The hospital continues to offer drive-up testing. Ideally, patients who have symptoms would be seen at Warren General. “The testing clinic (at Warren State Hospital) is helping to take the load off of our walk-in clinic.”

In the midst of the pandemic, the hospital was up for its triennial – every three years – survey by the Pennsylvania Department of Health. Despite the ongoing challenges, “we were citation-free,” Allen said. “We take pride in that.”

Vaccine mandate

Asked about the possibility of required vaccinations among the staff, Allen said he expects a few months, but to expect to have to live up to that mandate around Jan. 1, 2022. “We are 70 percent vaccinated throughout the organization,” he said.

The mandate is being passed through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. “We are 50-percent-plus Medicare and Medicaid… we must follow” the mandate, he said.

Brian Ferry

Staff writer

Times Observer

205 Pennsylvania Ave. W.

Warren, PA

(814) 730-6301

(716) 664-5305 (fax)

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