January 4, 2021 - The incoming CEO of Uniontown Hospital doesn’t want to just see the hospital reinvigorated, but the community along with it.
“This is truly an honor and a privilege,” said Dr. David Hess, the incoming CEO of Uniontown Hospital. “I’m very excited.”
Hess was named the new CEO following the resignation of Steve Handy. The transition comes as Uniontown Hospital joins with WVU Health System, after ending its relationship with UPMC in 2019.
“There’s a ton of potential here that I believe UPMC didn’t recognize,” Hess said. “There are some specialties that should be in the community of that size that aren’t being used now.”
Hess said he’s looking at three goals for Uniontown Hospital--the first being the lifeblood of a community hospital, which is primary care.
A major focus for Hess will be on primary care recruitment so many residents in the community will have access to primary care physicians near their homes.
Second is a robust cancer program as Hess said a community the size of the Uniontown area should support a cancer program with specialists coming over from Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown, West Virginia, for a program. Hess would like to see that program established in the spring.
The third is having orthopedic surgery available in the area as Hess said 60% of joint procedures are currently done outside of Fayette County.
“With a county this size, we should do all joint replacements in Uniontown Hospital,” Hess said, stressing the importance of having family nearby for recovery and shorter commutes home from surgery.
He acknowledged, though, that the medical issue on everyone’s mind is COVID-19.
Hess said the surge of COVID-19 patients coming into the hospital has been stressing and taxing to hospital employees, which is concerning, but he sees positive things coming too. He said the hospital continues to recruit great doctors and nurses to handle the influx of patients, and has made the necessary adjustments to provide care as the need increases.
“We don’t know what medicine will look like at the end of COVID,” Hess said, adding there will always be a low level of the virus as there will be people choosing to not get the vaccine. “We will have a strong workforce to grow with me and see bigger and better things at the hospital.”
Along with COVID-19, another challenge Uniontown Hospital faces - as do other community hospitals - is financial struggles.
“We have to grow and start up strategic programs while watching the finances,” Hess said, adding that managing finances is something WVU Health System has done well and will continue to do with Uniontown Hospital. “In a couple of years, we hope to have Uniontown Hospital on a path to long term financial viability.”
Hess does have another focus that goes beyond the hospital walls and services, and that’s the community. He wants to see not just the resurrection and the revitalization of the hospital, but everything that surrounds it.
“The three major pillars of any community are hospitals, the school system and churches,” he said. “When you resurrect a hospital, it resurrects the community and creates a sense of pride.”
Hess knows because he’s seen it before.
A Clarksburg native and graduate of the WVU School of Medicine, Hess completed his internship and residency in internal medicine and pediatrics at the University of Kentucky Medical Center.
In 2014, he started the transition to become CEO of Reynolds Memorial Hospital in Glen Dale, West Virginia; it was a hospital with a questionable future five years ago, but since, has doubled in size.
Hess then became president and CEO of Wetzel County Hospital in 2018.
Since the merger between WVU Health Systems and Uniontown Hospital, Hess has had the opportunity to meet with community officials and local leaders in Fayette County, all of whom say Uniontown Hospital is a place that should be bigger and can grow, and Hess agrees.
“When you grow and expand the hospital and its services, it resurrects community pride,” Hess said.
Hess said after UPMC pulled away from Uniontown Hospital, it left many at the hospital with a loss of confidence and those in the community with a loss of faith in the hospital.
“I had to remind the employees this is a beautiful facility to work and take care of patients, and they do amazing things at Uniontown Hospital,” Hess said. “We’re starting to see that confidence come back. They are a really good group of people who are doing great things for the people in the community.”
As for the community, Hess believes there are people have who lost faith in Uniontown Hospital.
“We have to regain the trust of the community, and we do that one battle at a time,” Hess said.
To do so, Hess said they will handle every issue and address every complaint - big or small - and make sure every issue is corrected to the satisfaction of the patients.
“We’re going to take seriously every complaint brought up from people in the community,” Hess said.
Another part of regaining that community faith and growing community pride are bringing in those primary care physicians and having those specialists in town. That will prove to be a significant reinvestment in the area as patients will no longer need to travel to Pittsburgh or Morgantown for many, if not all their needs.
“We want to keep as much in the community and in the local hospital as possible,” Hess said.
He will begin his new position at Uniontown Hospital this month.