While training Certified Nursing Assistant students at the West Penn Allegheny Health System’s nursing school, Edith Ridley-Smith, R.N, urged her graduates to apply to West Penn Hospital because she knew something few did—the Emergency Room, closed more than a year ago, would reopen in January.

“It’s great to see. The East End will again have that option for treatment,” she said. “I retired from there before coming back to teach this program. So there will be more nursing and care jobs too.”

The move to reinstate emergency service was confirmed during a Nov. 1 press conference announcing that both the Highmark and WPAHS boards of directors had approved a definitive agreement, which will soon be filed with the Pennsylvania Insurance Department and other regulatory agencies.

In June 2010, West Penn Allegheny Health System closed the emergency department at West Penn Hospital and laid off 1,500 employees.

The reopening is being funded through a $50 million grant Highmark provided WPAHS last June to sustain and strengthen West Penn and Forbes Regional hospitals. The insurer has made a total financial commitment of up to $475 million to WPAHS– including $75 million to fund scholarships for students attending medical schools affiliated with WPAHS and to support other health professional education programs.

Dr. Keith T. Ghezzi who was introduced as WPAHS’s new CEO, said there would also be changes at other system hospitals including the introduction of a trauma center at Forbes Regional Hospital.

“We still have a robust staff at West Penn, but we anticipate hiring not just there but throughout the system,” he said.   “There are lots of people who’d like to receive care there and can’t. While we’re still planning what services will return, I can say there will be an increase in general medical surgery with a heavy emphasis on women’s services. We need to prepare for volume changes, and we’ll have more definitive answers on hiring levels in coming weeks”

WPAHS is comprised of five hospitals, including Allegheny General, West Penn, Allegheny Valley,  Canonsburg General,   Forbes Regional and a nearly 700-person multi-specialty physician group practice.

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