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CEO addresses auxiliary

Monday’s 106th annual meeting of the Penn Highlands Huntingdon Auxiliary (formerly the Auxiliary to J.C. Blair Memorial Hospital) was not only a reorganization meeting, but a first for many to hear from the leadership of Penn Highlands Healthcare.

Penn Highlands Healthcare CEO Steve Fontaine spoke at the education center on the hospital’s campus Monday afternoon to members of the auxiliary, discussing the history of the health system and Penn Highlands Huntingdon’s role in the health system for the future.

Fontaine said that as a health system, Penn Highlands Healthcare is financially young, even though the actual health system was officially formed in 2011 when they acquired hospital locations in Clearfield and Brookville to join the main hub of Penn Highlands DuBois. Penn Highlands Elk joined in 2013.

“In the most recent fiscal year, we had about $500 million in net revenue,” he said. “We also had about a 3% profit margin, which is pretty healthy for a health system, considering that 65% of health systems in the U.S. operate in the negative.”

Other stats include having a 10,000-square-mile reach in 17 counties, including Huntingdon County, with five hospitals, 92 clinics, two long-term care facilities, two cancer treatment centers, outpatient facilities and 10 urgent care centers.

Recruitment of physicians is also something with which Penn Highlands Healthcare has had success, as they’ve been able to recruit at least 50 a year for the entire health system so far, and Fontaine said they have a plan to fill a deficit of primary care physicians at Penn Highlands Huntingdon.

“We have adopted what is called a 10-10-10 plan, where we plan to recruit at least 10 doctors per year for the next five years,” said Fontaine. “We’ve figured out that you have a deficit of 60-70 providers, and this is the plan we have over a five-year period.”

Fontaine said when looking to acquire the hospital, he was impressed with the heart catheterization lab, and he hopes to complement those services with services available with cardiology through Penn Highlands Healthcare.

“We want to be able to grow the hospital’s cath lab,” he said. “We want to infuse some capital for more equipment and possibly move it to a more modern department or facility. I was impressed by this when I first started to come here, because there aren’t many rural hospitals like this that can operate extensive cardiology services and a cath lab like you have here.”

Another service Fontaine hopes to add to is pulmonary health services, as Penn Highlands Healthcare also has what he calls the “most progressive lung center in western Pennsylvania.”

“We want to be able to complement what you already have by offering bronchoscopes in the county by this winter,” he said.

Fontaine was quick to point out there are no plans at this time to reopen the maternity unit at Penn Highlands Huntingdon, but they are looking at potentially bringing in an OB/Gyn clinic of some sort to the county.

He also spoke of the extensive plans for expansion at other Penn Highlands Healthcare facilities, mainly at the main campus of DuBois, as well as other areas.

“With mental health, we’re looking to add 60 impatient beds in DuBois and 20 detox beds for those suffering from substance abuse,” said Fontaine. “There are no impatient detox beds in western Pennsylvania until you get to Pittsburgh, so we’re going to be the first to offer it in the region.”

Other expansions within the health system include adding operation suites in DuBois and expanding their emergency department so it can be considered a trauma facility, which is a necessity for that region of the state.

“If someone needs to go to a trauma center right now in the DuBois area, with Interstate 80 so close, the closest facility is Altoona,” said Fontaine.

Renovations are also taking place at a long-term care facility and Penn Highlands Clearfield.

Fontaine said the main goals for Penn Highlands Huntingdon right now, in addition to recruiting physicians, is to secure financial operations.

“Unfortunately, we had to restructure and we lost 45 employees, but you were losing $6 million a year,” said Fontaine. “As we recruit, we hope to add people back, but your primary care services are lacking, so we have to build that back in the next few years.”

In auxiliary business, the annual report was approved by members, then officers were officially installed for the 2019-20 year.

Auxiliary officers include Stephanie Strickler, president; Antoinette Gray, president elect; Allison Ghaner, secretary; and Heidi Leonard, treasurer.

Strickler also reminded folks this year’s gala is scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 9.

More concerns raised with swine farm

Todd Township Supervisors heard claims from representatives of the Todd Township Community Action Group during their monthly meeting Monday night regarding supposed activity at the swine CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation) in the township.

Stephanie Perez, representing the Todd Township Community Action Group, presented an overhead photo of the farm in question, and said she showed it to someone who has a swine operation in North Carolina, and she said there was a section on the farm where she believes they are composting pigs, and she’s concerned they are going to put an outside pit for manure on the grounds.

Perez said she was also told by two different people who live near the farm they heard gunshots in the early-morning hours in the last couple of weeks.

“They told me they heard 37 gun shots,” she said. “You know there’s now a viral outbreak of African Swine Fever in China. If they are killing pigs, why are they killing so many?

“I contacted the conservation district, and they told me they don’t have to report it if there was an outbreak of the disease,” Perez added. “If there’s something going on that we don’t know about, we need to ask about it. Two different people who don’t know each other called me to say something. Someone from the township needs to call on our behalf and find out.

Township supervisors asked Perez where she acquired the photo, as they believe drone photos of private property without permission as well as live Google images of private property are considered illegal.

Perez said she obtained the photo from a friend in Washington, D.C.

Supervisor Matt Barnett said he would contact the owners of the operation to inquire about any alleged activities.

Supervisor and chair Dennis Runk also made a suggestion for supervisors to consider changing ordinances regarding setbacks in the township. Right now, setbacks are 40 feet from the center of the road with an additional 15 feet for township rights of way.

“The township doesn’t need 25 feet of my property,” said Runk. “Right now, you have to be 40 feet, but with the right of way, that’s 56 feet. For people who have small acreage, that leaves you with a small block where you want to build. I live along a township road, and I can’t build in certain places if I wanted to.”

Supervisor William Hall seemed reluctant, but said he would think over it, as it would be an additional expense to change it, as they would have to advertise to change the ordinance, get the solicitor to change the ordinance and have a public hearing on it.

Hall also pointed out that there’s a minimum amount of land people must have in order to build, but Runk pointed out there are landowners in the township that were grandfathered in before that was set in the ordinance who would be impacted.

All supervisors, including Hall and Barnett, said they would think about it and get back next month.

Secretary Catherine Harshberger told supervisors they will learn if they were awarded the multimodal grant from PennDOT to make improvements to New Fording Road Nov. 12.

Supervisors also approved to advertise stone bids, passed three building permits and rejected one building permit.

CHIP members accept land parcel

After several years of negotiations, Saxton Borough Council members and members of the Changes in the Parkway (CHIP) committee accepted a small parcel of ground from the Martin family of Bellwood.

The Martin family owns a chain of numerous convenience stores located in areas across the region. One of their most popular stores is their Saxton location.

Saxton mayor Alan Smith welcomed Martin family patriarch Thomas C. Martin and daughter Karen Padula to the community. He said it was an honor to have them come to the community to make the presentation of the 40-foot by 60-foot parcel of property across the street from its Saxton store.

Council and the CHIP committee began discussions with the Martin family concerning ownership of the ground about four years ago. It was hoped the property, located at the intersection of Sixth and Main streets (Route 913), could be obtained and developed as a mini parkway.

Since the CHIP Committee is a nonprofit organization, it must work under the auspices of the borough council. The borough is the only one that can accept ownership of it.

“We are well represented here this evening as an indication of how appreciative we are for your graciousness and your generosity. This is a monumental day and one of those bright sunny days we talk and sing about,” Smith said.

Smith also thanked the family for the major investment they have made in the Saxton community. “When you look at this beautiful facility that you use in your TV ad, we are very proud that it is a centerpiece for our community,” Smith said.

He said many groups have been working on improving the image and identity of Saxton and said that the Martin General Store has played a major role in that effort. Padula said she was glad to hear her family’s business is so well received in the community.

As many of those assembled were aware, the Martins, for the past two years, have supported CHIPs annual Christmas tree lighting program held each year at the community parkway by providing hit chocolate and coffee.

The annual event, continued Smith, attracts as many as 700 area residents. He said they have been a real asset to the community.

Like Smith, council president Lester Meck thanked the Martin family for not only their generosity, but for the jobs they have brought to the area. Meck said the Saxton facility attracts those from out of the area visiting Raystown Lake who not only stop there, but patronize other businesses in the community.

Smith said the deed for the property specifies that it is to be used as a park area and that is what the borough is accepting it as. Later in the evening at its regular monthly meeting, the deed was reviewed by borough solicitor Brad Allison.

Smith and Meck both agreed the quality of employees at the store has been fantastic. Longtime employee Lori Lantz who has 26 years with the company was introduced.

Adam can be reached at dnews@huntingdondailynews.com.

Juries picked for upcoming trials

A pair of juries were seated Monday morning for criminal trials scheduled for later this month, including that of a southern Huntingdon County resident charged with a firearms violation.

Nine men and three women will hear the state’s case against Darrell Fleming, 54, of the Blairs Mills area, charged with the felony 2 offense of possessing a firearm when prohibited.

According to state police at Huntingdon, Fleming, who is represented by attorney Christopher Wencker, is not allowed to possess firearms due to a prior robbery conviction and is on state parole through July 2042.

Police say Dec. 13, 2018, a state parole officer stopped by Fleming’s Tell Township home for a routine visit and, after allowed inside by Fleming’s girlfriend, allegedly found three rifles in a closet. When Fleming arrived home, an additional firearm was allegedly found in his vehicle, police say.

Fleming’s trial is scheduled for Friday, Sept. 20.

Chambersburg resident Shawn Seville will stand trial on the misdemeanor 1 charge of indecent assault on an unconscious person, relative to an alleged incident at an Orbisonia home Aug. 5, 2018.

State police at Huntingdon allege that while staying over at the home, Seville inappropriately touched one of the occupants while she slept.

Seville, represented by Wencker, is scheduled for trial Thursday, Sept. 26. Six men and six women were chosen to hear the case.

Rebecca can be reached at dnews@huntingdondailynews.com.

TMSD parents voice bus concerns

Several dozen concerned parents from the rural areas of the Tussey Mountain School District appeared at the school board’s monthly work session Monday night to share worries about student safety and bus transportation issues.

Speaking for the large delegation of school district residents—many from the Trough Creek Valley, Little Valley, Enid and Round Knob areas—were Brittany Horton, Nick Miller, Arielle Neuder, Angie Gabrielson and Whitney Snyder. Much of their comments focused on concerns with the unusual number of hours many of the younger students spend on school buses five days a week.

One Todd parent told the school board that her 6-year-old child must get up around 6 a.m. to prepare to board the school bus and does not get back home until around 4:20 p.m., resulting in a 10-hour day, five days a week for the student.

Similar remarks were aired from other parents who said that such a long day and left little time for homework and family fellowship.

Another parent from the Enid Mountain/Round Knob area of Broad Top Township expressed serious concerns over the safety of district students riding school busses on dangerous, rural highways during wintertime. “There might be only a few inches of snow in Saxton, but on Enid Mountain, the roads can get very dangerous during bad winter weather,” noted one parent.

Another parent questioned the need for students to have to sit in busses for long periods of time in conflicting temperatures and weather conditions, adding that some youngsters are not able to cope with such conditions from a physical and emotional standpoint.

Another parent said that her child begged to not have to make the long ride from the rural part of the school district to the elementary school at Saxton, following the closing of the Robertsdale and Defiance Elementary Centers a few years ago.

Still other parents/spokespersons charged that the current timelines for picking up and discharging students was not realistic and encouraged school district officials and board members to make changes in the interest of student safety. “My children are getting home 30 minutes later than they did last year,” remarked another parent who also expressed concerns over apparent unsupervised waits outside the school in both good and bad weather conditions as well as having to travel with older, high school students, a situation that many parents disliked for several reasons.

“Sitting on a bus for long periods of time in all kinds of weather and having to wait outside the school unsupervised is not acceptable,” proclaimed another parent.

Also addressed were concerns over bus scheduling conflicts apparently sparked by the transportation of high school students to vocational classes in the Everett area as well as cost-saving measures instituted in the school district. “This should not be about saving money, it should be about the safety of our children,” declared another parent.

Several of the parents charged that telephone conversations with district Superintendent Dr. Gary Dawson about the bussing situation fell on deaf ears with at least one spokesperson calling for the resignation of the superintendent.

Dawson did not respond to the parents’ complaints during the meeting and was not immediately available for questions after the session. During a transportation meeting held prior to the start of the work session the superintendent told board members that some bus scheduling problems occurred but were being rectified.

Following the lengthy public forum held in the high school cafeteria, school board president James L. Hodge stated that the board “learned quite a bit” from the comments made by the parents, adding that the district transportation committee would be looking into the complaints.

Also present for Monday night’s workshop was Jack Jones of Broad Top City, an activist with the Junior High School Baseball team, who sought the board’s permission to allow the baseball team to utilize the baseball facilities at the Wood Township-owned J.A. Carney Athletic Field at Robertsdale for practice starting next spring.

Jones said that the use of the former Robertsdale High School football field is necessary because currently the athletes must share the Tussey high school baseball field with the varsity baseball team at East Saxton. The Wood Township Supervisors indicated last week that they did not oppose the use of the Robertsdale field.

Although the school district would not be responsible for the maintenance of the Robertsdale facility, Jones asked the district to pick up the cost for the one-time purchase of a set of bases and some infield mix necessary to prepare the baseball field for next spring’s baseball season. “But that work has to be completed this fall,” noted Jones.

The request was turned over to the district athletic committee for review as well as consulting with a Broad Top area girls softball team which also utilizes the Robertsdale facility.

When the board gathers next Monday night for its regular board session motions will be acted on regarding the hiring of four persons for school district positions, the acceptance of a resignation letter for the position of a part-time 21st Century high school aide and the approval of several volunteers for elementary wrestling.

At the end of the work session Hodge called for an executive session for personnel matters.

Ron can be reached at dnews@huntingdondailynews.com.

Juniata ranked as one of nation's best

Juniata College’s reputation as one of the best liberal arts colleges in the country has been reaffirmed after the web-based news publication U.S. News & World Report annual rankings for 2020 came out last week.

Juniata came in 82nd in the rankings of best liberal art colleges in the nation, moving four places from its 2019 slot of 86th.

“I believe it’s the real commitment we have from our faculty and staff to see our students succeed that sets us apart,” said James A. Troha, president of Juniata College.

“I’ve always said that we don’t operate to improve in the rankings. If we do a good job, that will come naturally. But it’s always great to see the needle moving in the right direction. It’s indicative of the hard work that everyone puts in.”

Juniata has been in the top 100 for the second consecutive year in the U.S. News ranking.

U.S. News & World Report analyzes several factors to determine the rankings: outcomes, faculty resources, expert opinions, financial resources, student excellence and alumni giving.

The college was one of eight colleges from Pennsylvania to be included in the magazine’s “A+” rankings. The others being Allegheny College, Ursinus College, Washington and Jefferson College, Elizabethtown College, Lycoming college, Susquehanna University and Moravian College.

As well as the U.S. News & World Report rankings, Juniata moved a whopping 175 spots in rankings put out by Money magazine, moving to 114th of 744 colleges and universities considered in their rankings of Best Colleges.

Money uses only three criteria to determine their rankings: quality of education, affordability and outcomes.

Troha considers these factors to be the most important, and says the big jump “makes me feel really good.”

The United States has more than 4,000 colleges and universities and of those approximately 500 private liberal arts colleges, which places Juniata in the top fifth of such institutions.

Nathan can be reached at nwoods@huntingdondailynews.com.