‘Little Hospital’ An engine of sustainability | News, Sports, Jobs


Rodney Buchanan, Trustee of Westfield Memorial Hospital, and Helen Baran, Chair of the Board of Trustees, stand near a sign outlining honors in front of the facility. Photo PJ

WESTFIELD — Sitting outside the entrance to a proud health care facility on East Main Street is a wooden train bearing the slogan, “The little hospital that could.” It is a testament to the resilience and determination of a Board of Directors, approximately 90 staff members and the dedication of 13 communities in the southwest corner of Chautauqua County.

Westfield Memorial Hospital is not content to sustain itself in an unstable era of healthcare, it is growing while meeting the needs of those it serves. It’s a very different scenario than many might have expected 16 years ago when the state’s Berger Commission — a task force formed to examine health care across the state — released his report.

Berger’s decisions in 2007 had a lasting impact on Chautauqua County hospitals. Shortly after the results were released, WCA Hospital in Jamestown partnered with Hamot in Erie, Pennsylvania, and UPMC to better serve its population. TLC in Irving, also known as Lakeshore, attempted to work closely with Brooks Memorial in Dunkirk in a relationship that was far from harmonious.

Westfield, however, seemed to be on an island – and living on borrowed time. Helen Baran, chair of the hospital’s board of trustees, understood the focus Berger had placed on the facility that was close to her heart at that time.

Instead of writing an epitaph, she and other leaders went into battle. “We had to fight a war to survive. …People don’t understand rural areas,” Baran said, noting later, “you are a rural hospital when the deer population exceeds the population.”

Baran and other board members began exploring ideas off the beaten path — and across state lines. In doing so, they found a willing partner at Saint Vincent’s Hospital in Erie, Pennsylvania. Later, when Allegheny Health Network acquired Saint Vincent in 2013, Westfield was included in the deal.

“This partnership and ownership comes with great financial stability,” said Rodney Buchanan, trustee of Westfield Memorial. “To be honest with you, that’s the key element of what keeps us alive…[in]being able to have that strong financial connection and that connection to resources, whether it’s capital, positions or of nursing staff.”

Although he’s been there for just over a year, Buchanan is more than just a manager. Supervising a small operation means being more active. Her nursing background allows her to help in the emergency room or in other areas when the number of patients is high.

He was also more than willing to help with maintenance. Last January, during a predicted snowstorm, Buchanan helped clear the parking lot because other staff were out with COVID.

“Rural health is becoming increasingly critical across the country as the health care environment changes,” Buchanan said. “I really think COVID has put a huge spotlight on your rural hospital health system. … The country is finally realizing that the rural health care system is your base … it’s what provides you with your chronic disease management, your primary care, your emergency care at all times.

It is also a first line of defense before scaling up, which often happens in large health centers, whether in Erie, Buffalo or Cleveland. During Buchanan’s tenure, AHN invested in improvements to improve the lives of nearly 50,000 residents served. Some of these services include: cardiac ultrasound, nuclear medicine camera, infection control performed by an ultraviolet robot to perform final cleaning of a room, phlebotomy and telehealth services. A new mammogram and dexa scanner for bone density should also be installed by the end of the year.

Buchanan and Baran noted that this is a “heart first” attitude that allows these recent improvements to the location. The two also discussed the high-quality emergency room that operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, a four-bed inpatient population and a 2021 Guardian of Excellence award for being ranked in Top 5% of Healthcare Organizations for Patient Experience.

These upgrades and honors are overseen by a 16-member board. It includes a representation of each of the towns and villages served.

Monica Lewis, spokeswoman for Allegheny Health Network, said Westfield’s model is a perfect fit with the organization’s mission to improve health and promote wellness in its communities. “They are committed to keeping care local,” she says. “All of the new technology has been designed so that residents in your area don’t have to drive to Erie or Pittsburgh to have their medical needs met. … AHN’s commitment to keeping care local is having a truly positive impact on residents of Western New York.

John D’Agostino is the editor of OBSERVER, The Post-Journal and Times Observer in Warren, Pennsylvania. Send your comments to [email protected]

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