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Commissioners hear plans for Penn Highlands expansions

Clearfield County Commissioners were updated this week on plans for expansion to enhance healthcare services and advanced care throughout the Penn Highlands Healthcare network.

Chairman John Sobel said although the system’s administrators and board of directors have held a series of meetings to update the community about future plans at each of its healthcare facilities, he believed it was important to the public to give another opportunity for the projects to be presented.

Chief Executive Officer Steve Fontaine and Penn Highlands Clearfield President Rhonda Halstead provided an outline of upgrades and expansions that are planned at each of the hospitals in the system.

Penn Highlands Healthcare was established as a community-based and controlled health care system in fall of 2011 with hospitals in Brookville, Clearfield and DuBois. It expanded in 2013 to assume Elk Hospital in St. Marys and most recently, J.C. Blair Hospital, Huntingdon.

Fontaine provided individual statistics for each of the participating hospitals and for the system. He said the system has nearly 4,500 employees; 505 inpatient beds both in hospitals and its two long-term care facilities; 361 physicians, 250 advanced practice providers for a 13-county area. Its annual net revenue is approximately $600 million.

Fontaine said Penn Highlands DuBois is the hub of the system and the other hospitals are spokes with each providing inpatient and emergency care.

“The system is very proud of its centers of excellence,” Fontaine said naming each provides specialized treatment and care for cancer, heart, lung, maternity and child care, behavioral health and surgery.

Penn Highlands Healthcare is undertaking a $111 million master facilities plan with the goal of enhancing access to critical services and advanced care for residents of northwestern central Pennsylvania, including Clearfield County.

Three of those projects in the plan will be at the west and east hospitals in DuBois and Clearfield. A five-story west wing annex will be added to Penn Highlands DuBois West. The annex will feature a new emergency room and cafeteria.

The facility’s current cafeteria will be demolished to make way for the addition, which will also allow for a new emergency room design needed to acquire trauma care designation, which will be advantageous because of its close proximity to Interstate 80 and its history of vehicle accidents.

“Currently, trauma patients who are injured in accidents on I-80 are taken to UPMC Altoona,” Fontaine said.

A new four-level center will also be built across the street to provide orthopedic, physical therapy, pain management, women’s services and pediatrics.

Demolition is currently underway at Penn Highlands DuBois East to remove half of the structure to make way for 126-bed campus that will provide space for inpatient mental health and substance abuse treatment. Fontaine said the substance abuse treatment program is critical for Clearfield County and will save residents a trip to Pittsburgh or designations in the western part of the state.

Penn Highlands Clearfield will make way for a larger emergency department in a new location. The new facility will be located on the first floor in the area currently occupied by the cafeteria. The new department will have improved accessibility for patients and ambulance service and upgrade the patient registration and diagnostic areas.

All of the expansion projects are expected to be completed by summer of 2021, with some of the projected to be wrapped up sooner.

Commissioner Mark McCracken said told Fontaine and Halstead, “I am really impressed by what you are doing. Its important to the Clearfield area that you are investing in the facilities at DuBois and Clearfield. I am very encouraged by the drug treatment facility. It will have a great impact on the area.”

Fontaine said Penn Highlands is committed to keeping care local and growing the facility by investing wisely.

Sobel said he too was pleased with plans for the expanded behavioral health and substance abuse campus.

“The county has a terrible drug problem. So many times people have to be sent away to receive treatment. I am also glad to see the number of jobs in healthcare. This will give young people an avenue to stay here.”

Commissioner Tony Scotto was absent from Tuesday’s meeting.

tkolesar / Tyler Kolesar 

Kids of all ages — along with an adult group — took part in Wednesday night’s Watermelon Eating Contest at Philipsburg Heritage Days. The annual event always draws a good crowd of onlookers to see who can eat the most watermelon within 30 seconds.

Jury finds Morrisdale man guilty of drug charges

Brandon James Kifer, 38, of Morrisdale, who was found passed out in a vehicle with a large amount of methamphetamine, was found guilty of drug distribution and possession charges during a jury trial yesterday before President Judge Fredric J. Ammerman.

Kifer was found guilty of possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance, an ungraded felony, possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia, both of which are ungraded misdemeanors.

Chief Douglas Clark of the Lawrence Township Police Department testified under direct questioning by First Assistant District Attorney that on Dec. 7 at approximately 1:45 p.m. Clearfield County dispatch radioed and said there was a report of a male passed out in a gold Chevrolet Silverado that was parked on the sidewalk in front of the Walmart Supercenter. A store employee unsuccessfully tried to wake the male.

He and Officer Eric Routch responded to the scene, while en route, dispatch radioed and said the vehicle had been moved to the back of the parking lot.

Upon arrival they located the vehicle and found Kifer slumped over in the driver’s seat. They banged on the window for about a minute before Kifer woke up and he appeared to be under the influence of something. He said Kifer’s voice was raspy and his speech slurred, and his hands were trembling.

“He appeared he was not all there,” Clark said.

They asked him for his identification and Clark said he went back to his patrol car to run his information through the in-car computer to confirm his identity and determine if he had any warrants.

While he did that, Routch continued his investigation and performed field sobriety tests on Kifer.

Kifer was then arrested, cuffed and patted down. Clark said he patted down Kifer and found a rubber glove inside of Kifer’s front hoodie pocket. Inside the glove were two baggies containing approximately an ounce of crystal methamphetamine each, for a total of about two ounces or about 56 grams total.

Also in Kifer front pants pocket he found a capped syringe. Kifer’s wallet also contained approximately $1,300 in cash.

Clark, who has extensive experience in drug enforcement with the state police as an undercover agent, criminal investigator and lieutenant before retiring and becoming chief of the Lawrence Township Police, said in his professional opinion someone with that much methamphetamine and cash is not using it solely for personal use but for sale and distribution.

During cross examination by Kifer’s attorney Leanne Nedza of the Public Defender’s Office, Nedza showed Clark a copy of Routch’s incident report, which states that the methamphetamine was found in Kifer’s pants pocket and that Clark had signed off on the report.

Clark said Routch’s report is in error and said he (Clark) didn’t catch the mistake when he reviewed the paperwork. Clark said from where Routch was standing he probably didn’t have a good view of where he found the drugs.

Nedza also showed Clark a discrepancy where some reports showed two vials of blood were taken from Kifer at Penn Highlands Clearfield and others that say there were three. Clark said all blood draw kits come with two vials and a report stating there were three was in error.

At the beginning of the trial, before the jury was brought into the courtroom, Officer Elliott Neeper of the Lawrence Township Police Department took the stand for pre-trial motions made by the defense.

Neeper testified that Kifer was taken to Penn Highlands Clearfield for a blood draw but the phlebotomist could not get enough blood from Kifer because the veins in his arms had collapsed from multiple injection sites in his arms, presumably from prior illegal drug abuse.

Because of this, the lab didn’t have enough blood for testing.

Nedza objected to allowing the jury to hear this and Dobo said the commonwealth would ask Neeper about the blood draw in the presence of the jury and when he states they were unable to get enough blood for testing, Dobo said they would leave it at that and wouldn’t get into why they were unable to get enough blood and Nedza said that was acceptable.

Neeper testified that he was contacted to perform a drug recognition evaluation on Kifer on Dec. 7. In addition to being a police officer, Neeper is also certified as a drug recognition expert.

Neeper said he performed a series of tests on Kifer and determined he was under the influence of a stimulant and was unable to safely operate a vehicle.

He was then transported to Penn Highlands Clearfield where they were unable to get enough blood from Kifer for testing.

Routch gave similar testimony as Clark. He said when questioning Kifer, Kifer admitted to snorting Subutex. He also said he didn’t get a good view of where Clark found the drugs on Kifer. Under cross examination by Nedza, Routch said Kifer did OK on some of the field sobriety tests but he would later fail those same tests when tested by Neeper.

Nedza also noted that in his report, the methamphetamine weighed 60 ounces at the police station but when it was sent to the Erie Crime Lab, the lab said it weighed approximately 54 ounces, Routch said his weight was a rough estimate. He used the police station’s scale which is not calibrated and he did not remove the drugs from its packaging to weigh it.

The defense called one witness, Jennifer Quick, the defendant’s fiancé. She testified she gave Kifer $1,500 to deposit into their bank account on Dec. 5.

During closing arguments Nedza argued that the police made critical mistakes in the investigation and said the commonwealth did not prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

In his closing arguements, Dobo said the evidence in the case was “overwhelming” and any errors made by the police were minor administrative errors and are immaterial to the case and asked the jury to find Kifer guilty of all charges.

The jury of 10 men and two women deliberated for approximately 30 minutes before rendering its verdict. The jury found Kifer guilty on all charges except DUI-controlled substance/2nd offense.

Kifer remains incarcerated in the Clearfield County Jail in lieu of $100,000 monetary bail. Sentencing usually occurs within 60 days.

Heritage Days honors businesses, organizations, individuals

PHILIPSBURG — The 2019 Philipsburg Heritage Days week kicked off Tuesday evening at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church with the annual Vespers Service and Awards Ceremony. Each year, the event starts the week the day before vendors take to Front Street.

The Vespers Service was conducted by many of the community ministers — led by the Rev. Fr. Robert McKay — and also saw a performance by the Valley Voices community choir.

The Awards Ceremony saw eight businesses and organizations honored for anniversaries: Moshannon Valley EMS (40 years), Rothrock’s Department Store (45 years), Moshannon Valley Pharmacy (45 years), Geisinger of Philipsburg (45 years), Simler Insurance Agency (85 years), Philipsburg Kiwanis Club (95 years), American Legion Post 437 (100 years) and Grace United Methodist Church (135 years).

Each of the eight honorees had representation attending the event and spoke about how they were honored to be recognized for their service to the Philipsburg community. Further information on the businesses/organization was published in the Philipsburg Heritage Days special section in Monday’s edition of The Progress.

Two award winners not previously announced prior to the ceremony was the Jean Fooks Award and the Chairman’s Award.

Heritage Days Chairman Jim Pollock said the Jean Fooks Award was created after Fooks — who was an instrumental part of the creation of Heritage Days — passed away a handful of years ago. Fooks’ daughter, Ella Forcey, chooses the recipient.

“This year we’re honoring an individual who uses his talents to make memories for others,” Forcey said.

That individual was photographer Alan Murphy, a longtime photographer of Philipsburg-Osceola athletics and other events.

“He makes his photos available via the internet for proud family members and friends to download at no charge,” Forcey said.

Forcey said the community and especially the athletes look forward to Murphy uploading the photos after the events. She also said he’s an asset to the community and if a need arises, “He takes the necessary steps to make it happen.”

“An example of that is when a team of individuals at Trinity United Methodist Church decided to launch a monthly community dinner, Alan was a part of that,” Forcey said. “And 11 years later, he remains dedicated to that mission.”

“Philipsburg is a great place to live,” Murphy said.

Murphy said from the time he moved here, the community has been extremely supportive of him, thanking church members, community members and sports coaches that he’s worked with over the years. He said once he retired, he decided he wanted to give back to the community through his service and through his photos.

“Thank you,” Murphy said of the award.

Pollock said he gives a plaque each year for his Chairman’s Award to honor those that typically don’t get the recognition they deserve.

“I’ve been very fortunate to be surrounded by very, very good people (on the committee),” Pollock said. “So many people help and they never ask for any bit of acclaim.”

Pollock’s choice for the Chairman’s Award this year was Jerry Lese, owner of Hi-Way Pizza. Lese was unaware he was receiving the award and had actually been helping Pollock hand out the plaques to the other award winners on the evening.

“I just love living in Philipsburg,” Lese said, overcome with emotion. “Thanks for everything.”

Pollock said he figured if Lese found out he would be receiving an award he wouldn’t want to attend, so he got him to help with handing out the awards.

“Jerry does so much for the community that goes under the radar,” Pollock said, name dropping many organizations that he holds fundraisers for through the pizza shop. “He never collects a penny for it. That takes a special person ... That is what makes this town so special — the people that do things out of their generous hearts for our community to make it great.”

Pollock said on behalf of Heritage Days and the community, they hope to have Lese helping the community for a very long time.

Former SCI Houtzdale employee gets state prison for drug smuggling

Former SCI-Houtzdale employee Rick Allen Davis Jr., 36, of Philipsburg, who was caught bringing drugs into the prison, was sentenced to two to five years in state prison by President Judge Fredric J. Ammerman Tuesday at sentencing court.

According to the affidavit of probable cause, on March 2 at 9:10 a.m., Clearfield-based State Police responded to SCI-Houtzdale for a report that Davis, a food service instructor, was providing an inmate with prohibited contraband.

A lieutenant at the facility reported that Davis had dropped off a container of Muslim oil for an inmate. A pat down search was done on Davis and a small baggie containing methamphetamine, two Suboxone strips and 10 8x10 sheets of paper containing synthetic marijuana was found.

A search of Davis’ vehicle was conducted and 18.9 grams of methamphetamine, 1.3 grams of synthetic marijuana, 10 paper strips and nine full sheets of paper containing synthetic marijuana, 44 packages of Suboxone, a plastic bottle containing a liquid that tested positive for synthetic marijuana, a half strip of Suboxone and 14 international money orders to Davis totaling $4,341 were found inside of Davis’ vehicle.

Davis’ vehicle was towed to the state police impound and Davis was taken to the Clearfield barracks where he said he had intended to deliver the synthetic marijuana and Muslim oil to the inmate. Davis also gave a written statement on his involvement.

Davis pleaded guilty to contraband-controlled substance, a 2nd degree felony and was sentenced to serve one to three years in state prison and possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance, and was sentenced to serve one to two years in state prison to be served consecutively to the previous sentence.

Prior to sentencing, Davis’ attorney Steven Johnston of the public defender’s office asked Ammerman if he would consider giving Davis a boot camp recommendation and if he would consider giving Davis a maximum sentence of five years in prison instead of six as recommended by the probation department, because if he received a six-year maximum he would be ineligible for the boot camp.

Assistant District Attorney Jendi Schwab did not oppose and Ammerman agreed to give the boot camp recommendation and to sentence him to a maximum of five years.

In a plea agreement, the commonwealth and the defense can agree on a minimum sentence but the maximum sentence is left to the discretion of the judge.

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