Washington Hospital Remains Independent Despite WVU Medicine’s Regional Growth

WASHINGTON, Pa. — Washington Hospital, flagship and focal point of the ever-expanding Washington Health System, has been an independent health-care facility for 123 years.

Brook Ward is determined to keep it that way.

Ward is president and chief executive officer of WHS, a nonprofit operating in a competitive market featuring two large systems that are not averse to acquisition: UPMC and Allegheny Health Network.

Enter West Virginia University Health System, which operates as WVU Medicine.

Over the past year, the Morgantown-based system crossed the state line and opened an outpatient center in Greene County and began providing services at Uniontown Hospital.

WVU Medicine, likewise, isn’t opposed to adding to its portfolio, and last week announced that the Fayette facility signed a letter of intent to come under its umbrella, starting perhaps in 2021.

Ward pledges to stand his ground on any acquisition overtures by WVU.

“I’m not concerned that they’re going to win,” he told reporters Friday following his address at the Washington County Chamber of Commerce Breakfast Briefing at Southpointe Golf Club near Canonsburg, Pa. “There’s nothing they do that we don’t do.”

Then, without prompting, he added: “I have no doubt they’d love to own Wheeling (Hospital), Uniontown and Washington and have all of us as their northern flank. We’ll do our best to compete in this market.”

In June, directors of Wheeling Hospital and WVU Medicine announced they had forged a management services agreement, and that Douglass E. Harrison would be the hospital’s new CEO. So WVU Medicine has ties to two of the three entities Ward mentioned. That triumvirate, essentially, runs east to west along Route 40.

Angela Knopf, spokeswoman for WVU Medicine, said in a statement: “We enjoy a positive working relationship with the Washington Health System,” but declined to comment further.

During his 45-minute speech to a crowd of 150, Ward extolled the virtues of WHS and the challenges all health-care facilities encounter.

Washington Hospital is believed to be the largest employer in Washington County, with a payroll of 1,725.

There are about 2,300 employees systemwide, including an estimated 235 in WHS Greene Hospital, and more than 300 medical staffers and 300-plus volunteers, according to figures listed in Ward’s PowerPoint presentation.

He talked about the continuing rise in costs to consumers, pointing out that from 2017 to 2018, hospital prices rose 1.85%; health insurance went up 4.5%; and prescription drug prices grew 4.1%. Ward said WHS is striving to decrease costs while increasing quality of services, and endorses preventive medicine. “We have to do a better job of keeping people from getting sick.”

That, he said, may be happening to an extent as “traditional hospital business has continued to decline. All hospitals are scrambling to capture a fewer number of patients.”

Maintaining and recruiting accomplished physicians and staff is another priority in a system that, Ward lamented, lost three top executives over the past year.

WHS also is involved in two endeavors designed to enhance regional operations. It is a member of Bridges Health Partners with three other independent nonprofits — St. Clair Hospital, Butler Health System and Excela Health System. Bridges was formed in 2015 to provide patient care regardless of the payer.

Then three weeks ago, word came down that Washington Hospital, Monongahela Valley Hospital, WHS Greene and five other facilities in the western half of the state are participating in the Pennsylvania Rural Health Model. That initiative gives the eight hospitals fixed annual payments from insurance providers instead of paying in a fee-for-service model.

In closing, Ward said via PowerPoint, “The health-care environment is undergoing a major transformation and is very challenging.”

He pledges to stand up to those challenges.


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