TALKING ABOUT THE AREA'S SUCCESS — John Frankovitch, left, chief executive officer of Weirton Medical Center, and Vincent Deluzio, managing director of R&V Associates, discuss during an interview in the hospital's board room the success not only of WMC but of positive regional economic indicators highlighted by the hospital's statistics. -- Paul Giannamore
WEIRTON — Weirton Medical Center’s statistics show a hospital that has positioned itself to face changes in the economy and medical care, but it’s the region’s economic health that’s indicated by the numbers that energizes the hospital.
Vincent Deluzio, managing director of R&V Associates, the business managing consulting firm, and John Frankovitch, the hospital’s CEO, discussed not only the hospital’s growth and what’s been done to position WMC to be stronger but how the health of the region’s economy is indicated in the numbers.
The statistics since R&V was brought into the hospital in 2012 include:
• 933 employees in 2012; 1,443 now.
• Annual payroll has grown by 55 percent, from $39.4 million to $77.7 million.
• Net patient revenue has risen by 105 percent, from $8.8 million to $182.25 million.
“You cannot find another community hospital with these kinds of numbers,” said Frankovitch.
Deluzio said, “We have embraced the concept that we’re part of the Pittsburgh region. That’s important because we have to attract employees and we have to attract residents.”
He said there are doctors and administrators and nurses and staff who used to work in Pittsburgh’s big hospitals who now work at WMC.
He said people working across the region will only increase as the Interstate 579 tollway is expanded from its current junction with U.S. Route 22 east of Burgettstown to reach the Canonsburg, Pa., area and I-79 in the coming years.
“In many respects, it’s becoming more healthy. This is not the story of the rest of West Virginia. The Upper Ohio Valley is riding a crest,” he said.
At WMC, there was a realization that the hospital shouldn’t try to be all things to all people.
“We took a hard, cold look and determined that we have to provide medical services for a broader segment of the population. It is the right thing to do. We are close to a number of areas. We started employing doctors and picking specialities that made sense,” Deluzio commented.
WMC is focusing on primary care, access to services throughout the area with satellite offices and specialties that make sense, such as obstetrics and gynecology, enabling the hospital to offer its continuum of care across lifetimes.
Another positive: The number of babies born at WMC during a three-year period is now at about 1,200, a level not seen since the 1970s.
“Things are better here than they were a generation ago,” Deluzio said. “You have a lot of people who sort of long for the old days when there was heavy manufacturing. I think what’s happening is that you have a more diverse economy. You have a variety of opportunities for people and in a broader approach to where you live and where you traverse. That will help this area much more than a steel mill being propped back open that is never going to employ 15,000 people again.”
“You are seeing a broader group of patients from a broader region and there are things we can do well close to where they live,” Deluzio said.
The focus on primary care is a growth area for the future in medicine, he said, as technology allows primary physicians to do more without sending patients to specialists. That keeps costs of the medical system down.
Of the dozens of physicians added to the staff since R&V arrived in 2012, more than 20 are primary care physicians with offices across the Tri-State Area. WMC has grown from nine off-site locations to 47 since 2012.
Deluzio expects the emphasis on primary care will remain crucial as talk about the future of the Affordable Health Care Act continues.
“You will see it play out in places like Weirton Medical Center,” he said.
Frankovitch noted another positive economic sign for the region and for the hospital: Physicians from as far away as Kentucky and Cincinnati inquire about jobs.
“They see what’s going on. They see the promise of it,” he said. “That would not have been possible five or six years ago. We never would have been successful in recruiting such physicians. That’s now a regular conversation we have.”
WMC’s location gives it the ability to access those growing regional markets. Deluzio and Frankovitch said the people who made the decision in the 1970s to relocate the Weirton General Hospital from the end of St. John’s Road in a neighborhood on a bluff north of downtown to the site with access and growth off U.S. Route 22 should be credited for their vision. The hospital’s growth has contributed to the success of spawn a business park, now called WMC Plaza, across Colliers Way. Growth on the old site would have been impossible, Frankovitch said.
WMC, Deluzio said, can’t duplicate every medical specialty offered in Pittsburgh but embraces proximity to Pittsburgh’s medical centers of excellence. For example, Frankovitch said, it wouldn’t be right for patients in need of specialized pediatrics care to be kept away from the services of world-renowned Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. Baseline care is established locally and specialty care is just up the road.
“The right thing is to do what we can do here and get to the right facility,” Frankovitch said. “Sometimes community hospitals haven’t reached that acceptance level, that you can’t be all things to all people.”
“We don’t try to say, ‘Don’t go to Pittsburgh for a heart transplant or your open heart,'” Deluzio said. “We try to keep in balance and that helps us in the long run. We get cooperation from the Pittsburgh facilities, as well.”
Frankovitch said the hospital no longer thinks of itself as the center of the universe but goes out to the communities where residents need services, and the number of patients from Ohio and Pennsylvania for WMC has grown.
Frankovitch said economically, rather than hitting a big home run locally, the growth is happening organically.
“We are so pleased to be a part of it. You have seen a great growth in what we’re doing and you’ve seen on the other side with Pat Ford (the director of the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle) that it’s a broad-based, diverse recruitment of business and expansion of the region. It’s not one single industry, it’s not one where you stake your whole claim to that and hope that it survives. That bodes really well for the region,” he said.
Deluzio said that will contribute long-term to stability for the region and the moving of jobs back and forth across the area.
“We see it here every day,” he said.