By Pat Cloonan
Uniontown Hospital CEO Steven Handy urged students at Penn State Fayette, The Eberly Campus, to seek a career that is satisfying, rewarding, and encourages them to get out of bed.
“You should be enjoying life as you go through life’s journey,” Handy said in the second in the campus Spring 2016 series of CEO Conversations Wednesday. “Live with integrity. Take the high road. Live life without regret.”
He said he’s had few regrets over more than a quarter century at Uniontown Hospital, including three as CEO of Fayette County’s largest employer (1,200) and business organization (with a $150 million annual budget including a $60 million payroll).
“We are a community hospital,” Handy said. “Friends, neighbors and family caring for friends, neighbors and family.”
That includes nearly 60,000 patients going through the emergency room and 1,000 babies born each year. Handy said, “Eighty percent of all new life in Fayette County takes its first breath” at his hospital.
Other lives are touched as well. An older resident thanked Handy for the hospital’s efforts on behalf of his late wife, calling the care at Uniontown “outstanding.”
Handy also recalled a neighbor knocking on his door recently to thank Uniontown Hospital for the care he received in his fight with heart problems and cancer.
“My responsibility is to create a healthy organization, an organization that people want to be a part of,” Handy said. “We are the largest charity in Fayette County, providing $10 million a year in charitable services. We want to be a good corporate citizen.”
There are challenges, Handy said, calling health care “an industry in turmoil.” He wants to offer health care to all, while covering expenses and being compliant with regulations.
As he responded to a question about the drug epidemic from Bob Shark, executive director of Fay-Penn Economic Development Council. Handy said he had no medical answers and pointed to another statistic out the obstetrics unit at the hospital.
“Thirty-five percent of newborn babies are born (at Uniontown Hospital) to substance-dependent mothers,” Handy said. “It rips your heart out.”
Even with an affiliation with University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s network of hospitals, Uniontown remains an independent rural community hospital.
UPMC is “one of our biggest partners,” along with such entities as Highlands Hospital (for geriatric mental health and other services) and nursing homes that relieved Uniontown of the need for a skilled nursing unit with 36 beds, Handy said. That allowed Uniontown Hospital to renovate all of its rooms into single-bed private rooms.
“We realized we had a focus that we could do it all, and that was wrong,” Handy told the audience.
Essentially, Handy urged those gathered in the Student Center of the Williams Building to ask themselves, “How am I going to feel about (a job) at the end of the day, or the end of my life?”
When asked about what to look for in that job by Alysa McKenny, a sophomore from Irwin studying to be a physical therapy assistant, Handy said job-seekers should ask of co-workers, “How would I feel about interacting with them every day?”
To a question about the importance of diversity from campus Diversity Affairs Officer Pedro Tavarez Jr., Handy said, “You can create policies but it really is how you live that is the example you set for others.”
He urged those gathered at the Student Center, including local business representatives and campus officials, to find opportunities that keep adding value, something the Uniontown Hospital CEO did in bringing in a state-of-the-art computer system, and then developing the first hospital-based police department in Pennsylvania.
That action 12 years ago included Handy’s own commitment because previously he “never asked people to put themselves in harm’s way.” As he told the Penn State gathering, “I personally became a sworn police officer and even today I do firearms training.”
He told Austin Bixler, a Scottdale native, Penn State freshman and incoming president of the Student Government Association at the Fayette campus, that “you have to find things that incite your passion,” adding, “I find what I do every day to be rewarding.”
Handy started going up a corporate ladder, as director of finance at Conemaugh Hospital in Johnstown at age 25 and three years later chief financial officer at Mercy Hospital in Johnstown. At age 32, he arrived at Uniontown Hospital.
“I realized it was not about climbing the corporate ladder,” Handy said, as he started what so far are 26 years in senior management at the hospital up the hill from downtown Uniontown. While there, Handy and his wife Laurie raised three children.
“Fayette County is a great place, not just to be from, but to be at,” Handy said.
He came to what he’s doing today after growing up the son of a minister who moved often. Handy went to 10 schools before moving on after high school to earn a bachelor of science degree in accounting from Penn State and a master of business administration degree from the University of Pittsburgh.
“You had to acclimate very quickly,” Handy recalled about his younger days. “That has served me throughout my career.”
Those taking in the conversation walked away with two statements about the corporate mission of Uniontown Hospital – to “make a healthy difference in the lives we touch” — and Handy’s personal mission:
“I will be extraordinary at all I do, and I will live with integrity, without regret and driven to help others reach their full potential through example, encouragement and a helping hand.”