Greater Hazleton Health Alliance: Jim Edwards, President & CEO

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In these days of one-stop shopping malls and gas stations where convenience and accessibility are at the tips of the consumer’s fingers, it is only inevitable that other service industries will follow suit, including healthcare organizations.

Located in Hazleton, Pa., Greater Hazleton Health Alliance is angling to be a leader in this one-stop approach to healthcare. As Jim Edwards, president and CEO of Greater Hazleton, describes it, his organization is really “a one-stop facility for all your outpatient surgical and ancillary services,” a strategy that has proven effective for this small community hospital.

Competitive nationwide

Greater Hazleton offers three basic areas of services—inpatient, outpatient, and rehabilitative services.

At the 150-bed Hazleton General Hospital, such inpatient services as emergency, surgical, OB, acute rehab, and general acute are offered. Since May 2007, the Hazleton Health Wellness Center has offered outpatient services, featuring a surgery center, a fully equipped imaging center, and cardiac services including diagnostic testing, rehab, and a community fitness center.

Rehabilitative services are conducted on an outpatient basis and feature physical, occupational, aquatic, pediatric, speech, and lymphedema therapies. Additionally, Greater Hazleton’s musculoskeletal line features orthopedics, pain management, and sports medicine.

For a fourth year in a row, HealthGrades named Greater Hazleton in the nation’s top five percent for patient safety and in the top 100 hospitals nationwide for pulmonary care, an honor that is even more impressive given  the high levels of pulmonary disease in the surrounding community.

Greater Hazleton has also been designated as a Bariatric Surgery Center of Excellence and houses northeastern Pennsylvania’s first accredited primary-stroke center. With such progress in clinical services, the organization has seen remarkable improvement in its patient satisfaction scores, and
Edwards is quick to give most of the credit to his staff.

“All the successes that we’ve been able to achieve certainly would have never happened had we not had not only the support of the medical staff, but the hard work that they’ve put into all these processes to allow us to be able to achieve at the level that we’re achieving,” he said.

The healthcare reform dilemma

Because of Greater Hazleton’s top performance, Edwards feels that they are well-positioned for healthcare reform. However, he worries about adding a significant number of individuals to the rolls of the insured.

“I think there’s a lot of pent-up demand for healthcare services amongst that population, and I guess my concern and something that I haven’t heard a lot of discussion about is, who’s going to provide that care?,” Edwards said. “We already have a shortage of physicians in this country right now and a shortage of other healthcare givers such as qualified nurses and technicians.

“If within a several year period of time, we’re going to significantly add to those who are going to be seeking out healthcare services, that coverage is only as good as the ability of the providers to be able to provide the care. I’m concerned that you’re bringing all these people in, and I think it’s wonderful to provide them coverage, but I have not heard a lot of discussion about how that additional demand is going to be met. You don’t train doctors in two or three years or nurses or techs or other care providers.”

Edwards said that it’ll be eight to 12 years before any significant dent is put into this shortage. Therefore, physician recruitment continues to be an area in which he is devoting a great deal of energy and financial resources. For instance, Greater Hazleton has adopted a hospital-employment model for physicians. Although the shortage is still there, this model has helped them to improve the numbers in their ranks.

Into the future and beyond

Edwards said he has two primary goals for the future—gain accreditation as a chest pain center and become accredited as a Level III trauma center. Edwards said this is important because the nearest trauma center is 30 miles away, and there are many elderly people in his region with heart disease.

“For us to be able to be accredited as a trauma center, to be able to provide those services that are currently needed in this community, and to be able to provide many of those services that people have to leave for now, to be able to do them right here in the Hazleton community, is a very exciting proposition for us,” he said.

Greater Hazleton is also working on leveraging telemedicine services. Even though they don’t have enough volume to keep physicians in certain specialties busy on a full-time basis and even though they can’t provide the services of a tertiary or quaternary hospital, Edwards said the remarkable aspect to telemedicine and technology in general is being able to have access to these services in real time on a remote basis.

For example, Greater Hazleton established a teleburn program with Lehigh Valley Hospital. This enables them to assess burn patients when they come into the hospital immediately, working with a quaternary hospital like Lehigh to determine what the most appropriate setting and care for that patient is. They’ve also established a stroke-alert program with Lehigh Valley.

“These are areas that we’re providing a better level of care,” Edwards said. “Patients are getting better outcomes, and at the same time, it’s reducing the cost of care. It’s typically things that you’re not going to see available at a small community hospital, but just because you don’t have a doctor sitting here on site doesn’t mean that you can’t have access to that type of clinical expertise.”

He added, “Our belief is you shouldn’t have to live right  next door to a Lehigh Valley Hospital or a Jefferson or UPMC to be able to get those types of services. Through the use of information technology, it’s allowing much greater access to communities such as ours. ”

-by Pete Fernbaugh

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