Hospital praises UPMC partnership

One year into the acquisition that turned Altoona Regional Health System into UPMC Altoona, local hospital officials were hard-pressed to name a disadvantage of joining the Pittsburgh-based health organization that U.S. News & World Report says is the best in the state and 10th best in the country.

There’s been some loss of autonomy for some individuals, admitted Chief Medical Officer Linnane Batzel Tuesday in a hospital conference room.

“That’s a change,” she said, but not necessarily a bad one.

Since the merger, UPMC has stressed improvement through sharing of ideas in regular meetings of representatives from all facilities in the system, with adoption of best practices by all.

UPMC Altoona President Jerry Murray asked how you could argue with that.

Actually, the collegial way in which management representatives of the various departments from the various facilities in the system interact allows for each to argue for ideas that work.

That includes ideas from Altoona.

UPMC leaders don’t try to “big-time” their new brethren from Altoona, according to Murray and Batzel.

The organization is basically a collection of hospitals like Altoona, and the relationship among them is professional, Murray said.

The local practitioners like the opportunity to collaborate on improvements, Batzel said.

Two ideas from Altoona have the potential for system-wide adoption, according to Murray and Batzel: a palm scanner for patient identification and a patient-tracking system, the benefits of which include quicker notification of housekeeping when a room is available to be cleaned after a patient is discharged or transferred – which can mean rooms that are more readily available when needed for new patients.

UPMC also seems to have adopted Altoona’s pre-merger policy on not allowing tobacco use by employees during the workday, according to the Associated Press.

UPMC facility representatives identify challenges and try to find “system solutions,” Batzel said.

Among those being hashed out are protocols to ensure that a physician certifies the need for admission for Medicare patients, so that the hospital will get proper payment, Batzel said.

Local representatives are also working with UPMC’s improvement and innovation center on programs that include prevention of falls.

Meanwhile, other system benefits have flowed Altoona’s way.

Those include access to system expertise, technological innovations, availability of special services and doctor recruitment help.

The local hospital will be accessing breast-care expertise by coordinating with Magee-Women’s Hospital and will be accessing emergency child care and maternity expertise through telemedicine hookups with Children’s Hospital.

Technological innovations include planned adoption of the UPMC medical records system, which by April will mean “seamless” accessing of records at any UPMC facility for area patients.

Pre- and post-transplant services are already available here for kidney patients – and soon for liver patients, which minimizes grueling travel to Pittsburgh for people who are often very sick.

And doctors recently recruited to UPMC Altoona include an oncologist who’s an expert in delivering precisely targeted high-dose radiation; an ear, nose and throat, head and neck and facial surgeon and an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in minimally invasive hip and knee replacements and reconstructions.

“They see UPMC, and they feel more comfortable,” Murray said.

“It’s a long process,” Batzel said, speaking of the education necessary at all levels.

Still it should be done – with the local hospital fully integrated into UPMC – by this time next year, Murray said.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.