Skip to content

Business as Usual: Healthcare Council of Western PA

Business as Usual

As the COVID-19 Pandemic and vaccine rollout continues, it is taking an unprecedented toll on healthcare systems across the country and right here in Pittsburgh.

We welcome AJ Harper, President of the Healthcare Council of Western Pennsylvania. The Council is a regional trade association representing a continuum of healthcare providers including hospitals, long-term care facilities, long-term acute care providers, clinics, behavioral health providers, organizations that provide services to those with intellectual and developmental disabilities and specialty hospitals in a 30-county area of western Pennsylvania, northern West Virginia and eastern Ohio.

AJ will provide an overview of the impact to date and how healthcare will move forward into the future. Join us for what promises to be an informative and engaging conversation.








Good afternoon, everyone. This is Audrey Russo, President and CEO of the Pittsburgh Technology Council. We're kicking off another week of business as usual. And the topics that we continue to bring to you, our Reno are pretty informative. And we're glad that all of you are tuning in, to join in all these diverse discussions that we're having, and hopefully making meaningful connections. I'm joined as always with Jonathan Kersting. He's vice president of all things media and marketing at the Tech Council. As well as pay attention. We have a new microsite comm get PGH. And we're telling a whole bunch of stories, in addition to doing a lot of our other work. So I want to give a shout out to Huntington bank thanking them for the work that they've done in terms of supporting us over the course of this almost a year, which is hard to believe. But they are deep partners with us and all things that we've tried to experiment and keep the community close together. And I'm sure they are very, very busy again, with the PPP round that has just been dispersed, or at least applications have been applied for they open up today. You know, if you need to have any contact with Huntington bank, let us know and we'll make the connection. Also, I'd like to give a shout out to the Jewish health care Foundation, who has been passionate about all things that are mattering particularly over this last year in terms of the pandemic and today is no exception, we're going to have an opportunity to talk with AJ Harper. He's president of the Healthcare Council of Western Pennsylvania, we're going to talk about a few topics as much as we can pack in in the time that we have together. And of course, 40 by 80. That's the wholly owned subsidiary of the tech Council, which is our 501 c three, focusing on workforce and entrepreneurship. So we've muted your microphones. And we've allowed for you to have a chat, to ask some questions and participate. We have lots to pack in in these 30 minutes with AJ. But I'm very thrilled that he's taken the time to be with us. So as I mentioned earlier, AJ Harper, and he is at the helm, and really involved in many things that many of us aren't really privy to. And I'm pretty thrilled at having an opportunity for us to talk with him. So I'm bringing AJ, out. And I'm going to say welcome, AJ, thrilled to see you again. And thank you for carving out the time with us today. And also for the work that you do and everyone will get an understanding a little bit about what he does. But before we do that, let's let's talk about who is AJ, who is AJ, the man and the man who's actually, you know, the journey, the journey of him being at the helm of this organization and how we got there.

Well, thanks, Audrey, and to staff as well for this opportunity. Again, AJ Harper, I'm the president of the health care Council of Western Pennsylvania. We are a 501 c three dues based trade association, and we cover the 30 counties in western Pennsylvania. I'm originally from beaver County, did my undergraduate work at Ohio State. And after about a 30 year career, and Cleveland returned home with my wife as well to lead the council. I've been back for 16 years now.

Okay, see, we didn't even talk about Cleveland. We didn't talk about a game nothing. So really appreciate that. AJ, I heard there was a game yesterday. So let's talk about the fact of what of what your organization does tell us the mission. Tell us a little bit about the work you do. And then we're gonna peel back cover, cover three topics, and I'm gonna mute my blog for a second. So AJ, Sure,

thank you. Okay, so healthcare. If you if you look at health care setting at the federal level, the American Hospital Association and the Federation for hospitals represent hospitals at that level with policy and regulation and review. Every state has a State Hospital Association. Ours is the health and hospital systems association of Pennsylvania led by Andy Carter based in Harrisburg, and there are about 20 Metropolitan or regional associations around the country. So, yes, we have a 501 c three, but we really focus not so much on lobbying and advocacy. We're more pragmatic. We try to help our members to implement those initiatives that come out of left field, make sure they're compliant with rules and regulations. We do a lot of studies, a lot of training a lot of education. We consider ourselves a facilitator and collaborator where we're Switzerland renewal all members come here to address things in common leave the armor at the door and and work for the betterment of our the employees and the men and the communities that they serve.

Well, what what about the membership talk about the membership because it's a little varied and you have an opportunity to represent some wider constituencies than just hospital. Typical hospital associations,

right? So when I came here it was the hospital Council of Western Pennsylvania. But I was approached right around when the ACA was beginning to gain root and became law by leaders in our faith based post acute Senior Living communities, the Presbyterian senior care associations on aging and, and they came to me and said, you know, AJ, with the ACA, there's going to be a tighter relationship on reimbursement and quality metrics. And we would like to bring our association into yours. So with that, I did the slight name change to the health care Council of Western Pennsylvania, and since then, also have added specialty hospitals, long term acute care hospitals. And most recently, Audrey, as I was sharing with you Intellectual and Developmental Disability providers who have also joined, as well as some classic and very strong outpatient initiative. providers such as Adagio health, Pittsburgh, mercy Behavioral Health Corps, so we really are a continuum of care and have providers represent providers across the delivery system.

Wow. So there's so much to pack in this half hour. So I want to make sure that we've just picked up a few things. I mean, obviously, we care about the safety, it's important that people who are living in congregate environments get the support that they need, you've certainly been an advocate and an informant to make sure that the support is there and the lightest sign, but you focus on a few things. And in my notes, we actually have talked about workforce development. We've talked about food insecurity, we've talked about the actual nurses themselves, and supporting them in the environments that they're actually working in, in nursing means, and also a continuum of types of jobs. So where do you want to start with that? Because I think you've made some really good points. And I think the information would be really appreciated.

I think that Roger and I were talking about this, you know, there could be a different time, I'd be glad to come back to talk about the loss of business, it was substantial and elective surgeries and procedures and talk about the strain, that that's occurring on our nurses, doctors, allied health professions, with the surge and with the acute care episode. But there were three things areas of concern that we talked about that were there prior to the pandemic, and I think are going to be exacerbated post pandemic. And so in no particular order, Audrey, I think the first one is the misinformation on public health or a growing distrust about things that at least in my generation, we assumed to be correct and true. So the science around the vaccines, you know, there's a generation of newer parents who are opposed to vaccinations and immunizations. There's a generation of minorities who are suspect of our federal government immunization programs, which is warranted from actions and activities that occurred back in the 40s. And 50s. During, during, during and after World War Two. There's a growing doubt on science, we hear about the virus being a hoax or the virus being from China. So it's been politicized. There's, there's lack of mask adherence. And so even though they talk about herd immunity, we're not cattle. So I like to call it community immunity. And so those things are there. And again, there will be employees, in your respective businesses, folks, as well as people who I represent, who may not want to get vaccinated for some reason. And so just as we move forward, because I think there'll be something after this injury, you know, there'll be the next breakout, the next flu we've had we skirted h1, n one, and go all the way back to swine flu when I was in college. So we're going to continue to have a degree of outbreaks and viral outbreaks. So this that my concern about the you know, the vaccinations, immunizations and the science behind it are a concern and maybe a concern to your members as well for their own staff as employers, or based off maybe technologies or products or services they're developing, that they may find something that could help us to advance this cause.

Well, how would you help? How would you help with our members? So there are people who have solutions. And if they, I mean, even last week, I actually did a nice connection with you, and the sheets Innovation Center. So people, you know, the opportunity in the market sector is pretty huge, in terms of who you represent, but what are some ways that people might get connected and be helpful to you?

Well, we are, as you know, a pretty small shop, there's four of us. We don't really have a large Shared Services Division, but if you have individuals and I have talked to two people in the past who I've gotten leads from from Carnegie Mellon or have been members of the tech Council, there's a product service or application that they think we'd beneficial. I would encourage them to reach out to me via email or phone, Audrey Absolutely. You don't have a team to vet it. I can try to find some leads and try to make some robot making connections and I would be glad to try to make some connections.

So obviously with COVID, there's it's stretched the capacity of a lot of your members really stretch the capacity. What are the things that you've seen and art? Do you think that we're on an uptick at all any changes?

Well, I think that, you know, the data comes out and we do have a staff, statistician and epidemiologist and we know there are major surges around the country. We, with the first surge last spring with the surge Now we do have ICU beds available or hospitals have, and nursing homes have been rehabbed, responded, we've started to roll out vaccinations to our health care workers. You know, it's a Burg thing, right? And we've come together, we've had probably greater compliance than maybe other areas of the country. So yes, we have hospitalizations. And yes, we have, we have deaths. And I'm not downplaying those, but we do still have some capacity in our ICU and our beds. But the other point of that audio we talked about was the stress on the workforce. And it really struck me before our my last board meeting in November, and I got a modern healthcare magazine, it's the the magazine comes out weekly in regard to hospitals and health care. And the back page had listed the 1000 workers who have died from COVID, you know, doctors, nurses, you know, housekeeping folks, people in facilities, you know, my background has always been in, in non patient care running patient access, health information management, those types of departments. And there was a young lady at a hospital in Miami young young mother of three, she was a patient access coordinator, ie conducting a registration and picked up the virus and again, expired. So we have that stress there. But we also have Adrienne both and folks in both of our, in our, in our disciplines in tech and healthcare, we share a common vision and mission of recruiting and maintaining a strong workforce here, right in western Pennsylvania. And so that existing workforce or population that's eligible, we'd love to see them fill vacant positions and, and although there are shortages in nursing and certain allied health professions, Adri we have focused on non acute, where we're really looking to identify individuals who are maybe in big box retail, fast food hospitality, to look at, you know, coming into a caring, direct care position. Now that could be a home, it could be an aide that can be a nurse's aide, it could be a medical assistant, it could be someone who wants to go from dishwasher to food prep, to line prep, to cook to chef, matriculation programs have been out there in our industry a lot, probably yours as well. But one thing that we're looking at is a friend of mine in upstate New York created a program called the caring G. And there's actually been some research that identifies that there's a genetic makeup of individuals who may be predisposition to want to get into health care, there may be a tech gene as well, that directs people to do some of your members, right? There's a certain way that directs people to a certain a certain discipline or a certain profession. And we're trying to let people know, hey, you know, there's a solid pay, there's 401k benefits there are there, you know, there are retirement benefits, there's health insurance, a very tough business to get into right now. And not a safe one. We're obviously but that's what's going on with our workforce. And I know we share that in common Adrienne trying to recruit the best and retain, retain people who were here as well.

So what can you talk a little bit more about the Karen gene? Because I would think all of us want to have the carrying gene. So can you talk about that, and then Jonathan's gonna list one of the questions that's actually out there,

actually, it's a friend of mine from the Iroquois Hospital Association to their Metro Association received a grant. And they actually went out and identified the fact that you have individuals who are in fast food, big box retail, who might have a yearning to do something more. And they created a advertising campaign and then created a process by which individuals could connect to the long term care facilities in the region to try to match up with jobs, and then find out and get a job description, interview and interview with somebody because, you know, Audrey, a lot of times people will come in and say, Hey, I think I want to be a Nurse Aide, and they can go through the class orientation, but it's another thing when you when you get onto the unit, and you know, let's be frank, you know, can you care for someone? Can you can you change a diaper? Can you lift the large patient, you know, can you can you deal with end of life and so, trying to identify, do they have that, quote, caring gene, but it's a format and a program by which to direct people to those openings, those job openings and opportunities?

Wow, is there a link for that? Is there anything that you could share? Let us share,

we actually are just in the process of finalizing that agreement and trying to to launch that we'll be launching that here in in hopefully, in the first quarter of a second quarter 21

and so will will stay connected to you on that. So let Jonathan asked one of the questions that's out there right now. Sure.

Hey, thanks for joining us today really appreciate the conversation and insights you're bringing us to the question from Sam Brower wants to know, too, this is a challenge of getting COVID, antivirals into clinical trials now, because a lot of hospitals have been booked by major pharma, would your organization help a small out of state company do a clinical trial on a novel antiviral? That's out of our scope?

Thank you. We don't ever really have a clinical presence. So that would be out of my my bailiwick out of my scope, probably out of the State Hospital Association as well. Let me think about where I could direct that individual by I don't have anything off top of my head.

There's a way that's great. So thank you. So let's, let's continue to talk. Right, let's continue to talk you actually, there is we talked about workforce, right. We talked about the demand we talk about the gaps and talk about the opportunities. And what about the you were awarded a grant? I believe from rk Mellon. Yes.

Thanks. Yeah, I do. We did receive a grant from the rk Mellon Foundation for a program we have called the acronym of cresp Cr ESP. And what we're doing there is are 10 faith based post acute providers, again, the ja Presbyterian senior care Lutheran senior life extension, collaborative Baptist homes, etc. came to us and said, you know, our workforce is really stressed and we have the most economically fragile workforce caring for the most, the most clinically fragile population are members that are in the you know, in our in our care in our nursing homes, skilled nursing, personal care, assisted living. And so in an effort to help those individuals who may have lost, maybe their their significant other, or their partner, their roommate has lost their job. And so there's there's a drop in income, that we actually teamed up with the greater Pittsburgh food bank with Reinhardt foods and with Marburger dairy to deliver food and food packages to employees of our member organizations. So food insecurity is just not within the population that's being cared for but it is with the caregiver. And so we've been very pleased to work with received the grant from the rk Mellon Foundation work with primarily the those three entities to provide food boxes of produce dairy and dry goods, to our to our, to our employees of our member organizations in long term care.

You know, that's that's actually quite disheartening, right? I mean, I'm glad that you're doing this work. And so here we are trying to attract people into this field. And yet, we're dealing with food insecurity,

right? Yes, yes. I think that when, you know, and that gets into, you know, Audrey, we talked about going from the 501, c three to the C six and talking about advocacy. And that's when you're talking about reimbursement rates, for Medicaid for skilled care, I think Pennsylvania being 48 out of 50. So, lower reimbursement, lower oversea, lower wage rates, but again, other benefits and in this case, trying to trying to assist those who are extremely stressed in long term care with a food insecurity program, as well as doing some other things as well a a with Citizens Bank, doing a financial literacy program, and then working with Pittsburg mercy behavioral health on an assessment become an emotional behavioral assessment of the employee so they can really talk about what the stressors have been and then trying to identify initiatives in addition to their own EAP programs, Audrey, where we can provide assistance to those to those employees.

Yeah, I mean, are there Why are we 48?

If I a story, you know, work out of Harrisburg in regard to methodologies. And that's an entirely I mean, that's like a two hour session right on the methodologies in which you determine how you get paid. And, and again, those those ma dollars, folks really are spread across acute care, long term care, intellectual development, disability, behavioral health and drug and alcohol. So the issue of of reimbursement and proper level of reimbursement is something that we will always advocate for, or Audrey, the state associations would be advocating for that. So tied to that, though, Audrey has this whole issue of health equity. Right. And they talked about that a little bit. And, and, you know, we've had a Pittsburgh study that's talked about a lack of access to care for minority populations. We've seen a statewide study that demonstrated an unacceptable rate of maternal mortality among African American females. And health equity, to be honest with you is gotten the attention of healthcare more recently. Whether that's workplace violence or violence in the community, what's the role of the hospital provider in supporting the community. And we also know health equity is not only lack of access to care, which could be driven to indigent or minority populations. But there's housing, there's transportation. The two things, as I mentioned to you, because we're a small shop is that we focused on health literacy. And we have focused on food insecurity. And so those are the two. You know, health equity is a large a large lift, I have a Center for Health Equity, but honestly, that's one person Hillary holes, young lady who works for me. And so we're trying to pick and choose, like the lead and talking with sheets the other day to try to find where we can help our members help their communities.

So there's two questions out there, Jonathan's gonna grab. Okay.

Absolutely. First off, are we okay with PP reserves shortage at the time?

Good question. There, obviously, initial surge was was a shortage of PP, both out of FEMA, the Federal warehouse, and then the state the state stockpile, as well. But that has been addressed. The I could tell you that, Jonathan, my members are saying to me that they have not identified a shortage. Maybe some of our smaller personal care homes that are out there. People who aren't members of council might be finding a shortage. We've actually did a contract with Amazon, where we're now the member and we can direct nursing homes, personal care homes, assisted living facilities to Amazon business, if they cannot find PP through their normal vendor, but short answer is no. We've been resupplied with PP being to me gowns, masks, gloves, and other protective equipment.

That's fantastic to hear makes us all feel better knowing that's being covered right now. So a question from Eileen wicked wants to know, for the faith based long term care, is anyone focused on staffing levels or Medicaid reimbursement?

Yes, now, the Medicaid reimbursement is dealt with by their state association, Harrisburg leading age. And we are working with our own members, our CEOs, our HR executives, and our CEOs, on what I just mentioned, his caring gene initiative that we're trying to address and try to not only recruit his recruitment, and there's retention. And so we're trying to roll out more. And I would think, in the course of this year, I'd have a little more on the tail end of the quarter to talk about what success or failures we've had and trying to help our members to address them.

Absolutely. And Ingrid cook just chimed in with a question. Good to see Ingrid or here on the call. She wants to know, can you talk more about your health literacy efforts? Is there a reason why we're starting with restaurant workers to detect the caring gene? Well, there with them? Sorry? And what's new, will there be other industry sectors? included in the research? Do you offer smaller caregiver agency assistance with locating workers?

Yeah, so obviously, we're a member driven organization. So the carrying gene model was one that was done with long term care organizations of scale up in upstate New York. That's what I'm trying to replicate it here. Additional rollout, possibly would like to see that first part of the first part of that question, again, Jonathan was,

was to know, you see here, is there a reason why you're starting with restaurant workers to detect the carrying g?

Oh, yeah, it was just to look for individuals who were in fields that have had been up ended really, with within common? Yeah, exactly. Right. So and so that's why the carrying gene again, it's a it's a trademark as several strategies underneath that.

Right. Very cool. So are there is that the closing of long term care facilities, some of them that have occurred? is this related back to your point about us being number 48? in the state and the reimbursement?

Yes, yeah. suppressed reimbursements. So you know, if you go back, and I've been around for a while, so at one time, there was an intermediate level of care for what you were reimbursed in the skilled care. Now our members get to get we'll get reimbursed for skilled care and to and again, because of the push of patients, you know, accelerating from the hospital out. Our skilled units are both in our hospitals and in our freestanding facilities, I have a higher acuity, a higher level of illness. But if you don't qualify for skilled adrie, then you are in either personal care, or assisted living or independent living. So there's those stages and everything and the only one that's really reimbursed by the state under the Medicaid program is for skilled. So personal care, assisted living, independent living is not. So that's an out of pocket expense, where many of you are not for profit faith base will subsidize that with their benevolent care funds.

Okay. And then there's another question from Sam and Jonathan.

Yeah, it says, For sources from Sandy, thanks. It's great to see you. Have there been any discussions with your members regarding the COVID impact on long term real estate needs?

No, there has been Not because that's a good question. See, I think I would look at that because we are members both in IDD, the IDD world intellectual development disability world, I think that that was somewhere in one of the questions, really moving that entire population from institutional care to residential care. And I can, so there, there would be a growth in probably the need, because that population is also aging. And then I think the money that's being spent is really on trying to get high tech, you know, personal care, independent living sites, most of my members are doing that. So I think there'll be some growth there, I just don't know what it would look like. But it won't be the classic skilled bed, it will be more, more of a personal care with, again, high tech, high touch rooms, that would allow patients to, you know, obviously monitor their care and try to intervene quicker than sooner than later. So in pacemakers acute care episode. So Andre, no work 26. I just wanted to just say, we talked about the process working. And in this case, I just wanted to share something with with the members. So the cares Act funding was what obviously was, was produced by the federal government in each state received cares Act funding. And so right before their departure, Mike turzai, in here, he reached out on a bipartisan initiative created the seniors Care Act, which brought $175 million into the State Department of Health Department of Human Services. And the state in turn reached out to the seven major academic teaching centers around around the Commonwealth and said, help us to implement this initiative. And so we're very proud to be part of an initiative with UPMC h n healthcare Council in the Jewish health care Foundation, where we went out and we conducted rapid testing when there were outbreaks, we did assessments, clinical assessments, infection control, assessments, delivery of PP, which was an earlier question, and then of course, Nancy Zions with our training and education program. So as an example there, Audrey of going from the 501 c six, the legislation, right, getting the reg and then applying it and putting it to use and putting it to the end user. And that's been that's been a very solid and positive program that's resulted out of out of this pandemic.

So AJ, what do you think we're gonna, with the new president coming in and Washington changing some of their hands? And you wearing your advocacy hat? What are you hoping for? What might be some priorities? What as you wear that hat? And what can we do to be supportive of your efforts?

I think we need to start and see I was just, again, reading a magazine where several of the nominees by President Elect Biden, we're going forward, jump surgeon general health and human services, CMS excetera. I think the biggest thing, Audrey, that that the American Hospital Association, the state association, and we were supportive of was the Affordable Care Act. And why because it was expanding coverage, right, you know, Medicaid expansion to get those who don't have coverage, some degree of coverage. And the current administration has continued to peel back on the ACA. So I think that President Elect Biden said, Hey, there are some things that work well, some that didn't. I know, in the business side, there are issues on the tax base, and so forth. But as it relates to where we stand in regard to coverage and access to care, obviously, that's first and foremost on my list, that there would be some additions or bring backs, as opposed to the takeaways on the ACA. As far as your in your members, I think simply, you know, you know, we're here, as an association, you as well, and we just need to continue to collaborate and make sure that we know what each other is doing. And however, I can help your members to try to get in front of my members or promote something in the healthcare field be more than happy to do that for you.

Is there anything that we can do in terms of your focus that you have on food insecurity?

on food insecurity? I think that as employers, if there are programs, we talked about, you know, your own foundation, we talked from the folks from sheets the other day, if there are initiatives, I think that it you know, adriaan back to Maslow's hierarchy, right, you know, food and safety. Personally, that's where I'm at. And so I think that any initiatives around food insecurity, the greater Pittsburgh food bank with the person who I think is pittsburgher, the year which is Lisa skills

that are on right at the beginning and right, we raise money, specifically, but I'm thinking about your food insecurity, focus, particularly on those people who are working in a lot of these high risk jobs and their compensation might not be high in them high enough

right now. And that's something we can continue to talk about offline strategize on absolutely so great.

So if people want to reach out to you, can they reach out to you? Sure, absolutely. email out there for LinkedIn.

Right now on LinkedIn. I think some people have already again, it's AJ dot Harper Hc We're here in warrendale. And I'm around. So absolutely.

So I am so glad that we had a chance to pull you into our world and us to get pulled into your world. Because it takes all of us to do this kind of work. These are, these are trying times to say the least. And we are looking forward to making some headway in terms of the future. Thanks for your leadership on workforce development, food and security. And for all the array of things that you tried to deal with, with your lean staff in these trying times. So thanks for taking the time with us really makes a difference. We are educators as well. And that helps your mission. So thank you, AJ, stay safe, and stay active. Keep your voice loud and large because that's what we need. So thank you for taking the time with us today. Really appreciate it. Jonathan, what's on what's on board. What's coming up.

We have what I consider the fifth Beatle of business as usual stopping by tomorrow one Kelly hunt from the small business. Oh.

Okay. So that's the new PPP, the release of the new PPP in case we need some additional support. Kelly is going to be here to talk about that. That's excellent. Okay, so thank you, AJ Harper. Thanks, everyone for joining us stay safe. And we will see you here tomorrow at the same time.

Thank you. Appreciate it.

Transcribed by