Health Care Comes Home to the Community with the Construction of AHN Wexford Hospital

On August 15, Allegheny Health Network (AHN) and Highmark Health broke ground on a new, full-service hospital in Pine Township. Members of the Pine Township Board of Supervisors joined officials from AHN and Highmark Health in putting shovels in the dirt in a ceremony at AHN’s Wexford Health + Wellness Pavilion.

The estimated cost to build AHN Wexford Hospital is $275 million, and it will infuse money into the local economy and continue to boost this rapidly growing region. Hospital officials expect the hospital to create approximately 500 new jobs.

The people in the photo are, from left to right: Dr. Tony Farah, David Holmberg, Cindy Kirk, Dr. Allan Klapper, Marie-Claude Graef, Cindy Hundorfean, Jim Benedict, Mike Dennehy, Dick Thompson, Dan Onorato

Wexford Hospital is planned to debut in 2021. The 160-bed hospital, together with the connecting Health + Wellness Pavilion that opened in 2014, will create a true medical campus encompassing primary, specialty, outpatient, inpatient and emergency care. It will serve a population of more than 215,000 people, 40 percent of whom have Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield coverage and would otherwise have to travel into Pittsburgh to receive inpatient care.

“AHN Wexford Hospital is one of the biggest and boldest examples yet of Highmark Health and Allegheny Health Network’s commitment to investing in new and upgraded facilities across the western Pennsylvania region, as we continue to work to get health care right by delivering high-quality and high-value services to our patients and members,” said David Holmberg, Highmark Health President and CEO.

Allan Klapper, M.D., an obstetrician and gynecologist who currently serves as chair of the AHN Women and Children Institute, has been appointed president of the new hospital.

“We continue to see that patients want high-quality care in their own community. The proof is how well the community has embraced the Health + Wellness Pavilion,” said Dr. Klapper. “We have an opportunity to build a hospital with a focus on the experience, making sure that patients and their families have the best experience possible, one of empathy and compassion. That exceptional experience will be felt from admission through discharge, from being warmly greeted by our concierge staff to the extraordinary amenities and comforts afforded by the latest technologies.” 

Since its opening, the Health + Wellness Pavilion, which offers a range of primary, specialty and outpatient care, has been enthusiastically welcomed by the community and has exceeded expectations, with patient volumes increasing every year and services being added. AHN views an inpatient hospital as a natural extension of the model established by the Health + Wellness Pavilion.

“Enhancing access to care is a cornerstone of our strategy for how we can best meet the needs of patients in every community that we serve,” said Cynthia Hundorfean, AHN President and CEO.  “We believe that when you provide patients with the best possible health care experience, including high-quality care options that are closer to home, their outcomes are better and their overall quality of life is better. And that’s the promise we will be fulfilling in Wexford with the opening of this uniquely designed, beautiful new hospital.”

The 345,000-square-foot hospital will be built along Route 19 in front of the Health + Wellness Pavilion.  

“AHN Wexford Hospital will blend with the pavilion and the surrounding landscape and connect with the pavilion on the first and second levels,” said Jeffrey Carlson, President of the Wexford Health + Wellness Pavilion. “I’d characterize the new hospital as being a medium-sized, full-service community hospital.”

He also emphasized that, “During construction, the pavilion will be open and still be easily accessible with no interruption to services.”

The new hospital will have a dedicated, covered main entrance leading directly from Route 19. Traffic studies were conducted, and a third traffic light will be installed and the intersection reconfigured on Route 19 to allow direct access to the front of the hospital and the lobby.

The Emergency Department will also have its own dedicated road. That road will terminate under the pavilion in a temperature-controlled area for arriving EMS personnel and patients and afford direct access to the Emergency Department. The department will have 24 beds for emergency care and observation, including specialized rooms for pediatrics and behavioral health.

Services at the hospital will include state-of-the-art operating rooms, featuring minimally invasive robotic surgical capabilities; advanced neurosurgical, orthopaedic, cancer, and cardiac care, including two cardiac catheterization labs; a range of diagnostic and medical imaging; and an adult intensive care unit (ICU).  

However, perhaps the most eagerly awaited department may be the hospital’s women and infants program, including advanced labor and delivery services.

“The question we were most often asked during planning meetings with the community was: Will you deliver babies there?” said Dr. Klapper. “We are pleased to announce that AHN Wexford Hospital will be offering a full range of women’s health services, from outpatient to inpatient surgery and sub-specialties, as well as labor and delivery. While nearly 50 obstetrics units have closed in Pennsylvania since 2000, AHN will be opening its second new one in the span of a few years.  Jefferson Hospital’s opened in 2014, becoming the first new obstetrics program in Pennsylvania in many years. AHN Wexford Hospital’s will be the second.”

Unlike old legacy hospitals with numerous additions, circuitous entrances or skyways connecting wings, Wexford Hospital has been designed to make sense and be easy to navigate. “Limiting entrances is essential for security and AHN Wexford Hospital also has been designed with security in mind,” said Dr. Klapper. In addition to the new entrance from Route 19, the north and south entrances at the Health + Wellness Pavilion will remain. Even the elevators at the new hospital will help with wayfinding as people stepping off the elevators will see the glass panels facing toward Route 19, allowing guests to use the highway as a guide.

A new 480-spot, four-level parking garage will be erected on the south side of the pavilion and will offer free self-parking as well as complimentary valet parking. “Having free parking was a priority of our consumers when we were planning the hospital,” said Dr. Klapper.

The parking garage will be the first constructed in Pine Township, and much thought was given to it. “There will be louvres that will aid in ventilation and help to limit the occurrence of headlights shining into patients’ rooms,” said Mr. Carlson. “It will set the standard for parking garages in Pine Township and will be constructed with the same materials used for constructing the new hospital and will match those of the existing pavilion.”

Like the Health + Wellness Pavilion, the new hospital will feature natural lighting, wider hallways and the grouping of departments that make sense and enhance flow. “We are promoting a hotel feel and emphasizing service,” said Mr. Carlson. “We listened to the voice of the health care consumer at numerous community sessions, and I believe we will deliver what consumers want in a hospital. We even brought in a lot of EMS companies to provide input, including having them drive the road that their ambulances would take. Many EMS personnel remarked that they have never been as involved in designing an Emergency Department as early in the process as this.”

Added Dr. Klapper, “Months and months of planning and consultation have gone into the hospital. We want the experience at AHN Wexford Hospital to be seamless, easy and sensible. It’s not often that you can design and build a hospital to reflect best practices.”

Adding to that “hotel feel” will be the patient rooms, which will all be private and have their own bathrooms. The rooms will also have exterior views, providing abundant natural lighting. Therapeutic art will enhance the décor, and patients will be able to control their own environment by setting the temperature, lighting, and entertainment to their liking and ordering from a room-service menu.

Directly opposite the patients on the wall at the foot of the bed, televisions will not only provide entertainment, but will also keep patients and families informed about care. Through AHN’s EPIC electronic health record, patients will be able to access their medical records and test results on their televisions. The screens will also keep patients and families informed about who the attending nurses and physicians are, and photos of staff will be displayed next to their names. Additionally, patients and families will be able to access schedules to see what medical procedures or tests may be slated for the day.

There will also be a separate discharge lounge, preventing patients from having to be discharged and exit through a bustling main entrance.

Special attention has been devoted to the exterior and common areas.

“We took pains to protect the therapeutic green spaces already in place by preserving the courtyard as well as the landscaping at the north end of the pavilion,” said Mr. Carlson. “The hospital will have two rooftop gardens, one dedicated for expectant mothers and new families and the other for visitors to enjoy. There will also be a staff garden. Clinical work and providing care are exhausting, and this garden will provide support for the staff.” 

The café will serve healthy food and feature a coffee bar, and there will be a conference center, which the community will be invited to use. And, of course, there will be a gift shop.

Pains were also to taken to minimize noise. The new hospital will have a helipad and will be able to transport critically ill patients to Allegheny General or West Penn hospitals in the city. No helicopters will be based at Wexford Hospital, and the ones that do fly to and from the hospital will do so primarily between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. The helicopters will observe “fly neighborly” practices and fly along Route 19 rather than over residential areas. AHN officials expect about 150 transports per year, or only a few per week.

“But 95 percent of care that a patient would need, we will be able to deliver here. Everything you’d find in a full-service hospital, you will find at AHN Wexford Hospital,” said Dr. Klapper. “The hospital was designed to be right-sized, but also with the needs of the community and with the future in mind for expansion and the adoption of new technology.”

Culture and technology will play an important role in the overall patient experience at Wexford Hospital. From the time a patient calls to make an appointment until they are discharged from care, AHN is focused on making that experience the best possible.

The use of advanced technology at Wexford Hospital will be prevalent. “We are integrating technology that adds value, increases efficiency, aids caregivers and enhances the patient experience,” said Dr. Klapper. That new technology will include bedside registration in the Emergency Department, advanced robotics in the surgical rooms and the increased use of telemedicine, such as remote monitoring of ICU patients.

Other innovative additions to the hospital will include meditation rooms and a lactation area for the community and staff. Circadian lighting will be introduced for staff who will provide overnight care at the hospital. Employees ranging from medical professionals and medical support staff to administration will be needed to work at the new hospital, and AHN is collaborating with local schools, colleges and universities to train and recruit new workers.

AHN officials believe the new hospital will not only draw patients from the Wexford area and points north but also patients from eastern Ohio and even from locations south of Pittsburgh. “Because the new hospital will be so closely situated to so many major highways, including Interstate 79, we are already hearing from patients in the South Hills who plan to come here for health care because they can easily avoid the congestion downtown by taking I-79 to receive care here,” said Mr. Carlson.

Not only are patients excited about the new hospital, but local trade unions are pleased to be able to build the new hospital. Pine Township officials, local residents, and business are backing Wexford Hospital, too. “The community has been very supportive and an absolute pleasure to work with,” said Dr. Klapper.

Physicians are also enthusiastic about the new hospital. “The Health + Wellness Pavilion has been enormously successful, and physicians want to come practice here,” said Dr. Klapper. Wexford Hospital will welcome AHN and independent physicians.

“When people consider moving to a community, they take many factors into consideration—safety, education, recreation, employment opportunities and health care,” said Mr. Carlson. “When AHN Wexford Hospital opens, it will continue the legacy established by the Wexford Health + Wellness Pavilion of providing the community with top-quality health care. This hospital will be a great community asset.”

By Janice Lane Palko