From the Times Leader
Written by Andrew M. Seder - Times Leader Correspondent
Read source article on timesleader.com
February 5, 2013
One year after eight Community Health System Inc. hospitals joined forces to create Commonwealth Health, its chief executive said the organization has improved health care through regionalization.
But Cornelio Catena said Monday it also has experienced unexpected challenges.
Being able to share services and designate hospitals as hubs of certain specialties has been a success, Catena said Monday.
And the system has become more attractive to doctors in certain subspecialties who might not have been interested in an association with just one or two hospitals.
But access to patients in the four counties where Commonwealth Health has facilities, Catena said, has made physician recruitment much easier.
Twenty-one doctors have been hired since Commonwealth Health was formed Feb. 1, 2012, including 11 alone at Wilkes-Barre General.
Among the specialists brought in were those with gynecological oncology, hematology and interventional cardiology certifications.
Consolidation of services, new physicians, tens of millions of dollars spent on new equipment, computer systems and construction work are just several of the upgrades the system has undertaken.
What was not anticipated was the community need for capacity for behavioral health and drug-addicted patients.
The 107 beds at First Hospital in Kingston dedicated to mental-health patients will see an additional 20 beds added by summer and an additional 20 beds on top of that within the next year.
The old emergency room at Wilkes-Barre General was converted into a crisis center with four beds, and another four beds soon will be added.
And at the Choices Recovery Program’s methadone clinic on Laird Street in Plains Township, expansion plans are in the works.
“When we bought the hospital, it was not part of the plans to add additional psych beds,” Catena said.
But through an assessment of community needs, Commonwealth Health determined it was something that needed addressing to meet the growing needs for mental-health services.
Catena said creating a regional center for mental-health patients was viewed as a need, but he didn’t know just how great of a one until the beds started filling and talk of additional beds came up.
The societal issues of today are causing the spike in patients, Catena said, noting that besides more children experimenting with harder, more addictive drugs, mentally ill people also are not receiving proper diagnoses or medications. Catena said that while it’s been challenging to get people from Luzerne or Lackawanna counties to seek services in the other county, the ability to have doctors with privileges at multiple hospitals has helped.
He said most of the doctors are the ones going from county to county, rather than the patients.
Specialty hospital concept
The concept of designating certain hospitals for certain specialties has gone as planned, even though it has altered plans that were in the works to create a neonatal intensive care unit at Wilkes-Barre General.
Catena said that when Community Health System purchased other hospitals in the region and created the regional concept, the need for the unit at Wilkes-Barre General was negated because Moses Taylor Hospital in Scranton already specialized in that kind of health care.
So now infants needing that kind of care are directed to Moses Taylor. Likewise, patients with cardiac conditions are sent to Regional Hospital in Scranton and Wilkes-Barre General and psychiatric patients are sent to First Hospital or Wilkes-Barre General.
This sort of patient designating allows each facility to hone its specialty skills and not duplicate services at sister facilities, saving money in equipment purchases and helping to keep patients who might have left the region for health care here in Northeastern Pennsylvania.
COMMONWEALTH HEALTH BY THE NUMBERS
The eight hospitals of Commonwealth Health are: Berwick Hospital Center, First Hospital in Kingston, Mid-Valley Hospital in Peckville, Moses Taylor Hospital in Scranton, Regional Hospital of Scranton, Special Care Hospital in Nanticoke, Tyler Memorial Hospital in Tunkhannock and Wilkes-Barre General Hospital.
The eight hospitals of Commonwealth Health admitted almost 48,000 patients in 2012. In addition, they had more than 1.7 million outpatient visits, performed nearly 40,000 surgeries and delivered more than 3,700 babies. Affiliated emergency departments saw more than 152,000 visits, meaning the system handled a total of 1.94 million patients in its first year.