President: UPMC deal should have come sooner

During the 10 years of Jerry Murray’s soon-to-end tenure as president of the region’s major hospital, the clear highlight was its acquisition halfway through that tenure by the giant to the west — transforming it from community-managed Altoona Regional Health System to UPMC Altoona.

Murray, who will become vice president for special projects in UPMC’s central region in mid-January, now wishes he’d started talking to UPMC sooner, he said this week in an interview along with his designated successor as president, Jan Fisher.

The health care environment was challenging when he took the post, and his goal initially had been “to maintain, if not grow, existing service lines,” Murray said.

And for five years, he felt the hospital “did a good job of that,” he said.

“But it was getting more difficult,” he said.

Then UPMC came in with money to invest, national credibility and the intention “for us to continue to grow in this region — grow services and quality,” he said.

“I cannot think of anything where they have fallen short,” he said. “They’ve been true to their word.”

Examples of the system’s investment include construction of the Logan Medical Center and the Ebensburg Outpatient Center and continued development that will lead to creation of a comprehensive stroke center — development that has included a new neuro-ICU and acquisition of a bi-plane machine to do interventional procedures on stroke patients, he said.

Other investments have included creation of a cancer center outreach and enhancement of breast health services.

UPMC has been a “great partner,” Murray said.

“It was the best thing, next to the Altoona-Bon Secours (Holy Family Regional Health System) merger (in 2004),” he said.

As a 33-year veteran of the local hospital scene, starting with Mercy Hos­pital as manager of community outreach, Murray has experienced three mergers — Mercy with the Bon Secours Health System, Bon Secours with Altoona and Altoona with UPMC — experience that will help him fulfill the responsibilities of his new job, which is to help UPMC grow its system in central Pennsyl­vania and into other states, according to Murray and a news release that accompanied the leadership change announcement earlier this week.

While all the mergers were different, he has learned lessons that generally apply, he indicated.

“People don’t always handle change well,” he said. “But you’ve got to look for the good in change — opportunities, (the chance) to add services.”

Much “integration” work is required afterward, he said.

In addition to helping the system bring in new hospitals, his new responsibilities will include helping it acquire physician practices, Murray said.

Fisher, who has been president and CEO of Sol­diers & Sailors Memorial Hospital in Wellsboro, executive vice president and chief operations officer of Laurel Health System in Wellsboro and chief operations officer at UPMC Susquehanna in Williams­port, has been working with Murray for the past 2.5 months to “help set direction for the next five years,” she said.

In today’s tumultuous health care environment, that is like “a lifetime,” Murray said.

Really long-term strategic planning is “long gone,” Fisher said.

Fisher called herself a “strong team player and team leader.”

Her fortes — and the areas in which she plans to focus — are improving the quality of patient experiences, safeguarding patient safety and clinical leadership, she said.

The hospital seeks to improve the experiences of its patients by applying the Hospital Consumer Asses­sment of Healthcare Pro­viders and Systems, a tool provided nationwide by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

It measures patients’ “perceptions of their hospital experience,” according to the CMS website. Re­sponses to the surveys show the hospital where it’s doing well and where it’s falling short.

“We get feedback from every patient,” Fisher said. “We want them to rank us 9 or 10.”

Her training as a nurse gives Fisher “a unique perspective” on the evaluation of patient experiences, she said.

The hospital seeks to improve patient safety by using a variety of universal measures, including standards set by CMS to help hospitals prevent clinical errors and patient falls. “There’s a whole list we look at every month,” Fisher said. “We meet as a team.”

Clinical leadership will involve her participation in talks with work groups like one recently on ensuring that patients will be safe at home or wherever they’re going after discharge, so they don’t need to be readmitted for problems that could have been prevented with better planning, she said.

Her nurse training and other experience helps here by giving her “credibility,” she said.

Her day-to-day schedule will include interactions with the hospital board, the medical staff, individual departments, patients and the community, she said.

The 24 hours surrounding the interview included a visit with the board, a meeting with the medical staff and a Christmas dinner in Bedford, as her presidential responsibilities include governance of UPMC Bedford Memorial.

“Being visible” — and listening — is a big part of her job, she said.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.