Krista Mathias, board chair, UPMC Somerset; Andy Rush, president of UPMC Somerset; and Leslie Davis, senior vice president, UPMC, executive vice president & chief operating officer, Health Services Division, UPMC (from left), unveil the facility’s sign Friday, February 1, 2019.

The former Somerset Hospital officially became UPMC Somerset when it merged into the UPMC network of hospitals Friday, a move that hospital leaders said would “ensure a future of high-quality patient care for Somerset and surrounding communities for generations to come.”

Dr. Mark Yaros, UPMC Somerset’s family practice physician leader, who has been a member of the hospital’s medical staff for 34 years, said during a ceremony Friday morning that he is “elated” that he and other medical professionals at UPMC Somerset will now have “first-hand access to UPMC’s vastly innovative resources and their clinical and scientific expertise.”

“We’re very excited as a medical community to continue to grow mutually beneficial relationships between our Somerset Hospital physicians and the UPMC hospital physician community,” Yaros said. “We’ve already begun working together. … Already, we’ve begun to work to establish what our needs are, what we can do, how we as a larger group can conquer these needs and make our community a better place to practice medicine and provide care to our patients.”

Andy Rush, president of UPMC Somerset, announced during Friday’s ceremony that UPMC has committed to investing at least $45 million in Somerset over the next 10 years. He said the money will go “to improve multi-specialty consultation programs, to add a new primary care center, to expand our footprint, to add technology to our system to make it better able to communicate with those in Pittsburgh and other tertiary centers.”

“Other priorities we will have going forward,” Rush added, “are to improve our telemedicine program, which will be critical as we move forward in health care; to advance our community-based programs, our behavioral health, and our drug and alcohol treatment programs. These are all very critical needs in our community, and with the resources of UPMC, I think this will be an outstanding affiliation.”

Krista Mathias, UPMC Somerset’s board chair, said Somerset Hospital leaders decided in 2017 to seek a merger with a larger hospital system for several reasons, including a desire to expand access to “top-quality health care” in the Somerset region, thereby “preventing the need to travel outside of Somerset to get excellent care.”

Somerset Hospital also “needed help to address the significant financial pressures that many small, rural community hospitals are facing,” Mathias added.

Yaros, too, indicated that support from a larger network such as UPMC was seen as a way to overcome the obstacles, financial and otherwise, faced by a small hospital in a rural area: “Providing the most cutting-edge care at a rural hospital … has become phenomenally challenging,” he said. “It’s a huge challenge in today’s health care environment. I am thrilled that UPMC will help us face and conquer this challenge.”

Mathias said that, as hospital leaders explored their merger options, they were “especially impressed” by UPMC’s track record of “successful affiliations with its other hospitals.” Ultimately, they decided that “UPMC was the best option to help us meet and exceed our objectives.”

Somerset Hospital and UPMC first publicly announced in June that a merger was being explored, and a binding integration and affiliation agreement was announced in November.

When the agreement was announced, hospital leaders stated that the merger would not affect patients’ care or insurance coverage. The hospital will continue to honor the contracts it has in place with regional insurers and has reaffirmed its commitment to continuing to work with multiple payors in the future, a contemporary press release said.

Representing UPMC at Friday’s ceremony was Leslie Davis, executive vice president and chief operating officer of UPMC’s Health Services Division, who said that UPMC “is committed to ensuring that all of our patients get the right care as close to home as possible, and that’s the idea of making our hospital network larger – so that we can take care of more patients in this community in the future.”

David Farner, an executive vice president for UPMC and a Somerset County resident, also spoke.

Elected officials present at Friday’s ceremony included U.S. Rep. John Joyce, R-Blair County; state Sen. Pat Stefano, R-Fayette County; state Rep. Carl Walker Metzgar, R-Berlin; Somerset County Commissioner Gerald Walker; and Judge Daniel W. Rullo, of the Somerset County Court of Common Pleas.

Stefano, whose district includes Somerset County, said he “look(s) forward to this merger and all that it can bring,” describing it as “a win-win on both sides.”

“From my perspective,” he said, “Somerset Hospital has been doing a wonderful job meeting health care needs. By themselves, they’re doing great work. UPMC’s been doing great work. When you make a partnership like this, then you can do amazing things together.”

Walker said that “the relationship that we’ve cemented in history today is going to be key to our health care facilities in Somerset County not only surviving, but thriving, so this is a great day for Somerset County.”

Mark Pesto is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkPesto.

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