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Hospital moving forward

Members of the public had the opportunity to hear about the state of Penn Highlands Huntingdon at the annual public meeting at the hospital’s education center Wednesday evening.

Art DeCamp, chair of the board of directors for Penn Highlands Huntingdon, gave an introduction, saying he’s pleased the merger J.C. Blair Memorial Hospital and Penn Highlands Healthcare has taken place, detailing the objectives the board when they sought out a partner.

“It helps to continue the mission and values of the J.C. Blair Health System,” said DeCamp. “It helps to maintain and expand key programs and services, including acute care, emergency room care, general medical and surgical services, orthopedic services, cath lab and behavioral health services, all of which are critical to our community.”

Another goal of the board was to recruit new physicians and to maintain the status as a major employer of the county.

“We wanted to attract and retain high-quality physicians in a wide range of specialities,” said DeCamp. “We wanted to preserve jobs in Huntingdon County, provide competitive wages, benefits and retirement plans.”

Looking to the future, the board also wanted to ensure the hospital’s place in the community for years to come.

“We want to provide the necessary capital to support quality and growth,” said DeCamp. “We want to maintain a meaningful role in local governance of the hospital. I am also excited when looking to the future as we continue to improve service and operations here. I know with these actions, it will allow us to grow and add additional service lines.”

Joseph Myers, president of Penn Highlands Huntingdon, then discussed the overall mission of Penn Highlands Healthcare and how Penn Highlands Huntingdon fits into that mission.

“The mission is to provide you with exceptional care through our community-based health system while maintaining a reverence for life,” he said. “We want to be the integrated health system of choice through excellent quality, service and outcomes.”

Myers also thanked the board of directors for the 2018-19 year for their service and, in particular, thanked departing board member Ellen Sloan for her years of service. Sloan had served on the board since 1998.

“She was instrumental in the merger process and what she’s done with the hospital over her time on the board,” said Myers.

He also highlighted the health care services provided in Huntingdon County, and also discussed the five-year record of service at Penn Highlands Huntingdon, which detailed everything from the number of patients admitted in the last five years to average length of stay and total patient days at the hospital.

For example, the number of patients admitted in the 2017-18 fiscal year totaled 2,584; however, the number of patients admitted in 2019 was 2,299. The number of outpatients were 108,563 in the 2017-18 fiscal year, and 102,712 in 2018-19 fiscal year.

Also, the average length of stay for acute care in the hospital stayed the same from the 2017-18 fiscal year to the 2018-19 fiscal year at 3.3 days.

Another statistic provided was the payroll and physician fees decreased from $23,230,432 from the 2017-18 fiscal year to $22,743,299 in the 2018-19 fiscal year.

Myers said their overall goal in the next three years is to bring more medical services to the hospital.

“We have a three-year recruiting plan,” he said. “This means we want to recruit 10 people per year, which includes physicians, physician assistants and nurse practitioners.”

A part of that recruiting process is the hospital will soon be offering endocrinology services through telemedicine, as a doctor from the Penn Highlands Heathcare campus in DuBois will be offering services for those who need it.

“There will also be diabetic counselors available,” he said.

Myers also touted the opening of the QuickLab in Orbisonia a few weeks ago, and also said within the Penn Highlands Healthcare system, patients who need to be referred to a neurologist will soon be able to see one in State College.

Myers also detailed the finances of hospital, noting the hospital, which included the hospital operating income/loss for $5,371,133, which is less than in the 2017-18 fiscal year, with an operating income/loss of $6,211,280. While expenses like cost associated with employees decreased, as well as supplies and drugs purchased, other costs increased, like interest on money borrowed and purchased services and professional fees.

The fiscal year, however, doesn’t reflect any changes that occurred as a result of the merger, and DeCamp said the merger has helped move the hospital back to better financial health.

Myers agreed.

“So far in this fiscal year, we’re already doing much better than we were this time last year,” he said. “With things like group purchasing organizations, which allows us to purchase supplies and other things as a group (with Penn Highlands Healthcare). We’ve already seen a $200,000 savings.”

Myers also detailed the money the Penn Highlands Huntingdon Foundation raised, $391,000, for things like a Lucas device for the emergency department, a MRI breast coil and other items and new providers that have come to the area in the past year.

The hospital, as of Jan. 1, 2020, will also have a four-star distinction under the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and System star rating system.

Jackson Corner project slated for 2021

After almost a decade of being put on the back burner, PennDOT has announced plans to move forward with a slope stabilization project near Jackson Corner in Miller Township.

PennDOT officials involved in the project hosted an open house at the Stone Valley Fire Hall Wednesday night to showcase the proposed project.

The project is an effort to fix the section of Route 26 that has been shifting and causing problems for years.

Representatives from PennDOT and the project team were on hand to answer residents’ questions.

“It’s been a project for over 10 plus years or so,” said project manager Jessica Urbas of PennDOT. “It didn’t get built due to the lack of funding, so we came back to take another look at it because there’s been a lot of failure recently out there.”

According to Urbas, contractor bids for the job will be sought in November 2020, but actual construction won’t begin until 2021. The total construction cost will be $3.9 million.

Urbas said that having a contractor onboard over the 2020 winter season will be helpful in case something happens. As soon as all the paperwork and permits are in order, the project can begin.

Ideally the construction is projected to be done over the summer to avoid causing issues with school bus commutes and lower the risk of potential landslides or runoff accidents due to inclement weather during the cold months.

“We’ll be out there under detour from mid-June until August, so it’ll be outside the school season and it will be about 10 weeks,” said Urbas. The construction will include slope excavation, rock embankment and paving.

As far as stabilization goes, Matt Morris, geotechnical project manager from Gannett Fleming engineering firm, explained what construction will look like.

“We’re going to excavate all the soil that’s there that’s been moving, then we’re going to go down until we get to the solid ground,” he said. “We’ve done drilling to find out where that’s at and then we’re going to rebuild it out of large aggregates.”

The work will allow a better base that is stronger than the original road structure and soil. This will allow access water from the rain, ice and snow to drain out of the slope properly.

Morris said the main issue for the erosion is due to the amount of water flowing through it.

“That’s a big problem here because that water stays in that soil and saturates it,” he said.

A large part of the problem is that the road has continued to shift and move over the years. Morris said PennDOT wanted to get the funding in place in order to take care of it, so that it wouldn’t become an unexpected problem sometime in the future.

“If the roadway were to fail, you could have an accident there and then obviously the road would close. With some landslides you don’t have that luxury, they happen unexpectedly,” said Morris. “A lot of the residents who live around here say it’s been moving for years, and that it’s been a problem, so now we can go in and we can fix it in a controlled fashion, opposed to an emergency fashion.”

Dorothy Weaverling is a bus driver and said she’s happy something is being done and that PennDOT has chosen to do it over the summer instead of during the school year.

“I’m happy they’re fixing the road,” she said. “It’s rough now the way it is now because you never know when you go up there if the road is going to be gone. It’s getting quite bumpy.”

Jordan Frederick can be reached at jfrederick@huntgindondailynews.com.

Professor reflects on impeachment hearings

Heading into the second week of the impeachment hearings regarding whether President Donald Trump improperly sought help from Ukraine, much of the American public has been brushing up on their knowledge of American history and government.

Juniata College professor of politics Dr. Jack Barlow said the current impeachment hearings differ from those held against presidents in the latter half of the 20th century in a significant way.

“What happened in both the (Richard) Nixon and (Bill) Clinton hearings was there was a Special Counsel report given to Congress which formed the basis for congressional action,” he said. “This time there is no special report. There was the Mueller Report, but that didn’t lead to anything.”

Special reports or counsels are not necessary for hearings to go forward.

“The Constitution doesn’t require a Special Counsel. It leaves it up to Congress to define the procedures for this inquiry. They’re entirely free to investigate as they see fit,” said Barlow.

The Constitution states that a president, vice president or civil officer can be removed from office if impeached for “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”

“The criteria for impeachment is very broad, undefined and left up to Congress to determine,” said Barlow. “Within those limits Congress is free to define this. They don’t have to find a crime in order to do it. If they can find a crime, that strengthens their hand. When Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi mentioned bribery the other day, that’s an indication that the Dems are looking for something. A crime is going to be a lot more persuasive to the public.”

The House of Representatives could bring Articles of impeachment charges, against Trump without any hard evidence of wrongdoing.

“They could just say, ‘Look, we think you have betrayed our trust, you have used the office badly,’” said Barlow. “It’s really about the betrayal of the public trust.”

The Republican-controlled Senate would have to vote to remove Trump from office based on the Articles of impeachment drafted by the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives, which is highly unlikely.

Barlow said that, for the most part, his students are not rushing to any judgments concerning the hearings.

“I’m teaching a class on Constitutional law that deals with the different powers of government,” he said. “In general, my students are not enthusiastic Trump supporters. I have some who are supporters, but they’re not enthusiastic. They’re taking a wait-and-see attitude.”

Barlow himself doesn’t think the Democrats are under any delusions that they can actually remove Trump from office.

“I’m convinced that this is really about 2020. The Dems don’t believe the Senate would ever remove Trump, but I think they want to get these findings out before the public so that once decision time comes in 2020, that is on their minds.”

Nathan can be reached at nwoods@huntingondailynews.com.

Event urges smokers to quit

Deciding to quit smoking is easy, but it’s dealing with withdrawal and temptation that’s challenging. It takes time, support, and a good plan to stop smoking, which is why the American Cancer Society (ACS) has taken the initiative through the Great American Smokeout, today, Thursday, Nov. 21, to to help folks reach their goals.

According to Richard Lawler, integrated care specialist and certified tobacco treatment specialist at Penn Highlands Huntingdon, the Great American Smokeout is significant because it shines a light on the importance of quitting smoking for the more than 34 million Americans who still smoke cigarettes.

“The Great American Smokeout is a day that thousands of people join together to take an important step in leading a healthier life and reducing their cancer risk,” he said.

The event has been held on the third Thursday of November for the last 44 years. Today is the day many people will start their smoke-free journey.

According to information on the ACS website, smoking causes an estimated 480,000 deaths every year, or about one in five deaths, and more than 16 million Americans live with a smoking-related disease.

The long-term health benefits of quitting include a decreased risk of heart disease and stroke.

“No matter your age, it’s never too late to quit smoking,” said Lawler. “Those who quit will experience health benefits right away, as well as over the long-term.”

Lawler said in most instances, when someone quits smoking the body will start to improve its circulation, thus repairing the damage that cigarette smoke has caused to their sense of smell and tastebuds.

“For instance, 20 minutes after quitting, your heart rate and blood pressure drop. You’ll notice food tastes better and you have your sense of smell back,” he said. “One year after quitting, your risk of a heart attack drops dramatically.”

There are a number of reasons smokers make the choice to pick up a cigarette.

“A lack of education on ways to manage or deal with stress is a reason many people continue to smoke,” Lawler said. “Tobacco use actually provides a false sense of stress management. Learning healthier coping skills and ways to manage stress could be of great benefit for folks who are considering quitting smoking.”

Penn Highlands Huntingdon offers smoking cessation services to patients and community members. In addition the hospital has two other certified tobacco treatment specialists — Shelly Rivello and Jess Dimoff-Querry, who conduct smoking cessation services.

“We also provide a quit class in partnership with the American Lung Association,” said Lawler, “Our class is called Freedom from Smoking and it’s completely free to attend. This class meets for about one and one-half hours one day a week for eight weeks.”

Those interested in joining the next Freedom from Smoking class can call Lawler at 643-8330.

In addition to the Freedom From Smoking class offered at Penn Highlands Huntingdon, folks could speak with their primary care provider or call the 1-800-QUIT-NOW operated by the National Cancer Institute. All states have quit lines in place with trained coaches who provide information and help with quitting.

To learn more about the available tools, call ACS at 1-800-227-2345 or find free tips and tools online on their website at www.cancer.org under their ‘Stay Healthy’ tab.

Jordan Frederick can be reached at jfrederick@huntingdondailynews.com.

Customers warned of utility scams

FirstEnergy is recognizing this week as Utility Scam Awareness Week.

The week, organized by United Utilities Against Scams, hopes to spread awareness of potential scams and how they can be identified and avoided.

Todd Meyers, a Penelec spokesperson, discussed the details of prevalent scams in the county, breaking down the steps taken by scammers to mask their identity.

“These scammers will call and claim to be a customer’s electric utility. Thanks to the technology they have, they’re able to spoof the number or name of the utility and display it on the caller ID,” Meyers said. “They can set up different audio prompts and queues a utility will use when you call in; they can even put you on hold.”

Scammers, when able to contact unsuspecting customers, will use a sense of urgency to manipulate them. This can cause customers to follow along with their plans.

“Scammers will suggest urgency when they call. They’ll say, ‘Your power will be turned off in days or hours if something isn’t done,’” Meyers said. “The scammers will try to get you to run to a store and get a prepaid gift card or a green dot card and read off the information off to them. Once that’s done, the money is gone, often overseas. You’ll never get it back.”

Meyers informs residents that a sense of urgency is meant to play off seasonal insecurities. In the summer or winter, when such scams occur most often, residents will be prone to worry about the status of their electricity.

“During the summer and winter, people use a lot of electricity, and because of that, people worry if their electricity will be turned off,” Meyers said. “It fuels the urgency they feel. They may not consider what they are doing.

When confronted with a potential scam, Meyers suggests hanging up the phone and calling the utility. Not with the number provided by the potential scammers, but with the number provided in print by the company.

“After receiving a call like that, people should hang up the phone and initiate their own call to the number provided on their Penelec bill (or the printed number for their utility),” Meyers said. “When you call, they will know your billing history and your information. You can confirm with them if there is really an issue.”

Additionally, the payment method demanded by scammers is not used by utilities. It is only one of numerous red flags.

“Penelec accepts payment through such things as electronic billing (e-billing), checks sent through the mail or payment over the phone with a credit card,” Meyers said. “We would never accept the payment method suggested by the scammers.”

Customers should also consider that electric utilities would not be as quick to demand payment. FirstEnergy utilities have procedures in place to assure contact ahead of time if issues come up.

“Utilities are like battleships, they are slow and regulated,” Meyers said. “Customers will receive warnings and notifications before power is turned off. (They) would never receive a call demanding payment through prepaid gift cards.”

Joshua can be reached at jblattenberger@huntingdondailynews.com.

Cleanup crews work at spill site

According to officials from Laurel Pipeline Co., about 7,770 gallons of gasoline have been cleaned up and about 27,300 gallons of gasoline were spilled as a result of the leak in the pipeline found in the area of Mountain Road in Penn Township Monday morning.

But, cleanup crews, as well as local, state and federal officials, remain on site today as cleanup continues in the area as the air quality and waterways and drinking water sources continue to be monitored frequently.

A release from Laurel Pipeline Co. stated that, “after immediately shutting down a section of the pipeline and mobilizing a rapid response in coordination with local, state and federal authorities, we have placed containment booms as a precaution in nearby water tributaries for the surrounding areas adjacent to the release site. As a preventive measure, we are also conducting water monitoring and private well testing in potentially impacted areas.”

“We continue to serve in the incident command position at Marklesburg Fire Hall, and we’re the local county onsite coordinator with the pipeline company,” said Joe Thompson, Huntingdon County EMA director.

Thompson said officials from the state Department of Environmental Protection continue to monitor on site while cleanup crews hired by Laurel Pipeline Co. continue their work.

“The suspected location of the leak was uncovered Wednesday afternoon, confirming the release of gasoline,” he said. “DEP safe drinking water crews are assisting with monitoring any wells within one mile of the site, as 20 wells were identified. Officials from Laurel Pipeline Co. are also making contact with property owners and offering testing for them.”

While air quality and waterways will be continuously monitored, Thompson wanted to reiterate that thus far, no contamination has been observed in waterways or in any drinking water supplies.

“At the first evidence, we will work to spread the word, but at this point, there’s been on evidence of contamination of waterways,” he said.

Now that the leak has been contained and found, Thompson said crews will work to cleanup any possible contaminations that have already occurred.

Thompson said prior to the gasoline spill, pipeline crews had been in the area for scheduled work.

“They had been working on and off in the area for about a month,” he said. “They were doing routine maintenance in spots all along the pipeline, including that area. From what I understand, they were last in the area (Nov. 17), and they didn’t see anything out of the ordinary.”

As the result of a request by the EMA office, Laurel Pipeline Co. has provided a contact phone number for anyone in the Penn Township/Marklesburg area of the pipeline emergency who has any questions or concerns. This number is available for any local residents or property owners to contact for any information or details. The phone number is (412) 808-1170.