Greater Hazleton Health Alliance: James D. Edwards, President

by HCE Exchange on April 6, 2011

Hazleton General Hospital, a member of the Greater Hazleton Health Alliance, was founded in 1891 as a facility to provide medical care to the coal mining population of the northeast Pennsylvania region. For much of its history, the hospital was owned by the state, but in 1986 the hospital transitioned into a not-for-profit community hospital.  This was followed a decade later by the creation of the Greater Hazleton Health Alliance in partnership with the Hazleton-Saint Joseph Medical Center.  By 2004, it was decided, that because of rising costs and duplicated efforts, there should be a consolidation of services and inpatient and emergency services were delegated to Hazleton General.  Eventually, Hazleton General Hospital and Saint Joseph merged, leading to significant improvements and investments and a much stronger, more effective, Hazleton General.

Re-Grouping for the Future

Hazleton General began restructuring to accommodate the varied needs of the community.  This began in 2005 with an $18 million construction and renovation project, resulting in a two-story Annex building which boasts a state-of-the-art laboratory, medical records department, medical library, physician staff office and lounge, quality management and administrative offices.  The relocation of these services to the Annex paved the way for the addition of a sixth surgical suite, a new and enlarged post-anesthesia care unit, a new same-day surgery unit adjacent to the surgical suite, and an expanded ER.  Partnering with Lehigh Valley Health Network provided Hazleton General with the resources and capabilities of this larger tertiary health system’s broad specialties and technologies.  Additionally, a Step-Down unit was added to the hospital’s interior as a transition wing for patients leaving the ICU.

A Transforming Investment

The second improvement Hazleton General made resulted in a major breakthrough in the way care is delivered to the Hazleton community.  The Hazleton Health & Wellness Center, a 73,000 square foot health center was completed in 2007 and now provides a wide variety of services, including an ambulatory surgery center, physician offices, modern fitness center, outpatient physical, speech, aquatic, and occupational therapy, on-site lab services, cardiac testing and rehab.  “The Health & Wellness Center was probably the most significant investment of capital,” says President James D. Edwards.  Featuring a full modality imaging center, the facility provides x-ray, ultrasound, MRI, CT scan, digital mammography and digital bone density services along with a musculo-skeletal service that consists of sports medicine, pain management, occupational medicine and orthopedics.

“This center offers ‘one-stop shopping’ in a retail location and is a different approach to health care than what has traditionally been offered to patients.  The aesthetics are appealing and there is a real focus on customer service.  Since its opening two years ago, the center has been doing extremely well,” adds Edwards.

Creating a Respected Reputation

Overall, Hazleton General serves over 100,000 local residents in a tri-county area, with a 150-bed hospital and nearly 1,000 employees.  Net patient service revenue amounts to approximately $107 million a year.  Edwards says that this success is based on the hospital’s focus on achievement in quality and that appears to be paying off.  The hospital has been the first small-scale hospital in the region accredited as a primary stroke center and recognized as being one of the most improved hospitals by Quality Insights of Pennsylvania.  Hazleton General was listed as one of the top 5% of hospitals in patient safety and one of the top 10% in pulmonary care by a national hospital rating company.  In addition, the hospital was recognized in US News & World Report for excellence in heart failure care.

“We’re a small hospital but the things we are doing are very innovative.  The performance improvement tools we use are some of the best you are going to find anywhere.  We find much larger hospitals across the country looking to us to adopt the same techniques and methodologies,” adds Edwards.  Although the hospital does not offer cardiac cath services, through a partnership with Lehigh Valley Health Network, a large tertiary care hospital some 60 miles south, Hazleton is able to address the needs of these critical patients, treating and transporting the patients by helicopter in a swift and efficient manner.  The hospital also boasts of its life-saving MI Alert and Stroke Alert programs that can quickly assess and address a patient’s heart attack or stroke risk level.  “Working closely with Lehigh Valley Health Network has meant gaining access to specialists that we wouldn’t have been able to utilize.  We are now able to provide more specialized care in a timely manner, in a hometown community hospital.”

Quality Staff Strengthens Hazleton’s Success

“We can only be as good as the people that work here,” explains Edwards.  He says the hospital’s strong management team has given the organization a competitive edge.  “I’m a hands-on guy, but I’m not a micro-manager.  I have a team of high achievers who share a passion for success and obtaining great results.  What drives me is a passion for excellence.  We continue to find ourselves attracting people that want to succeed.”  For the Health & Wellness Center, Hazleton received overwhelming interest from prospective employees.  “We were able to hire the best and brightest.  For about 100 positions we received 1,000 applicants, so we could choose the most qualified to staff our new high-tech facility.”

However, staffing isn’t always an easy task for Hazleton.  Because of a rapidly growing population, physician recruitment has become an issue.  “We have some very devoted physicians, we just don’t have enough and that need will continue into the future.”  However, Hazleton has implemented some initiatives to help aid in recruitment.  “We’ve created an environment where we can reward positive results,” explains Edwards.  “In the past, we’ve had to use contracted nursing, which was expensive and didn’t provide the continuity of care that we like to offer.”  Now, because of the hospital’s success it is finding it easier to attract nurses.  “Nurses enjoy being in our quality-focused environment.  We appreciate our nurses and our staff and people are finding this is a nice place to work.”

-by Jacqueline Rupp

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