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.

Local News Coverage

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.