Fully realized this year, Project 2012 was a true community undertaking. If one were to try to list the architects, figuratively, whose vision led to the modernization of Susquehanna Health facilities, that list would grow into the thousands.
"This is us," said Steve Johnson, Susquehanna Health president and CEO. "This is we together partnering, participating with passion. (We) brought to the table a new centerpiece for the community ... It's a group effort, a team effort. It takes a family."
When the Sun-Gazette went to the health system, seeking help in identifying the key people whose ideas and dreams led to Project 2012, the newspaper started with Johnson, who deferred to a long list of people who made everything possible.
Susquehanna Health President/CEO Steven Johnson, middle, is flanked by, from left, Richard Dewald, former chairman of the board; Dr. Davie Jane Gilmour, chairman of the facility committee; Johnson; Ronald Defeo, chairman of the board of directors, and Rita Spangler, vice president of facility development.
Project 2012 was announced six years ago, but planning for it began well before that, Johnson said.
Back then, Richard W. Dewald was chairman of the board, which questioned whether they should bother renovating facilities at Williamsport, Muncy Valley and Divine Providence hospitals or build at a single location, Johnson said, crediting Dewald with helping to "conceptualize modernization."
The board had four or five possible locations, including downtown and in Montoursville.
"The end product plan was to reconstruct the campuses," Johnson said. "We were behaving as good community stewards. "It had quite an impact."
The big question after "Where will this happen?" became "How will this happen?"
Sister Joanne Bednar was there to answer that question.
"She began planning for funding for the facility modernization plan that would open three campuses," Johnson said.
That plan included updating the inpatient center at Muncy Valley Hospital, the Cancer Center and the Kathryn Candor Lundy Breast Health Center at Divine Providence Hospital and adding the patient tower at Williamsport Regional Medical Center.
Sister Jean Mohl
The three hospitals originally aligned under Sister Jean Mohl, president of Health System Foundation, in July 1994. In 2008, they were organized under the parent company, Susquehanna Health.
To be eligible for funding, Bednar had to move from an open agreement among the hospitals to a full consolidation.
Under her leadership, the Sisters of Christian Charity transferred control of Divine and Muncy Valley hospitals to Susquehanna Health so the assets would be more appealing when filing for the necessary bonds.
"(The Sisters) owned the facilities 100 percent," Johnson said. "They had to be willing to give ownership and control."
They retained Catholic sponsorship of Muncy and Divine, but they no longer owned them.
"Sister Joanne Bednar led the efforts," Johnson said.
Plans continued to move forward under another board chairman, Ronald DeFeo.
As those involved with the finance plan to pay for the renovations worked on it, architects and engineers already were in the designing process so that as soon as finances were located, the design would be ready to be bid.
Yet more than just the designers were involved with the renovations.
Every person who worked in an area received a chance to voice an opinion about what changes should happen. Surgeons in the operating room, radiologists in the imaging center and nurses throughout the hospital could offer suggestions, Johnson said.
Contributors also gave their ideas.
Overall, about 4,000 people were involved, Johnson said.
"This is here for them," he said of the public. "The community regained a sense of ownership and responsibility. We have the kind of hospital service here the region is deserving of."
Another aspect of the modernization involved quick access to Williamsport Regional Medical Center, a project that came to be known as the Pathway to Health.
In the 1920s, before the city had a dike, Rural Avenue was the fastest road that would not be affected by flooding. Later, High Street became the high-speed road, before being replaced by Interstate 180.
"The hospital building moved further and further away from the high-speed road," Johnson said.
Pathway to Health would create a direct line from the beltway, using Walnut Street from the hospital's new entrance on High Street to Little League Boulevard to Campbell Street to Third Street to Maynard Street and then to Interstate 180.
Pathway to Health
Pathway to Health also needed to improve roads and streets with fresh curbs, streetlights and crosswalks.
Dr. Davie Jane Gilmour chaired the facility development committee, a subcommittee of the Susquehanna Health board. Because of her role as Pennsylvania College of Technology president, she had expertise with purchasing properties and expanding to improve services.
She oversaw the projects on the campuses and worked with Rita Spangler, vice president of facility development, to see that everything would be done to ensure it was patient-centered.
With so much going on at once, Johnson said he could not attend everything, so Spangler served as clerk of the works.
There were project managers, architects, construction managers and more who were paid by contractors, but Susquehanna Health wanted someone employed by the health system to attend meetings whenever Johnson could not.
"She had no background in construction," Johnson said. "She was a good team leader."
Since 2007, Spangler was there for the move from pre-planning to full-scale work, as the renovations for Susquehanna Health came to fruition.
When Johnson came on board, the questions he had to answer were:
What can we afford;
What is the right number to invest; and "
How much should be raised from the public.
Many people helped get it to that point and Johnson said if he tried naming them all, he might miss some of them.
"There was a real focus on board leadership," he said. "They gave the approval. They are the ones who are accountable for this."
Those people helped the health system attain Gold LEED status for its energy efficiency improvements. Williamsport Regional Medical Center is the first of its size to attain the recognition since the requirements became more stringent in 2009.
On Sept. 1 of this year, Susquehanna Health partnered with Laurel Health, which includes Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hospital, the Green Home and other services.
The affiliation was not done because of financial stress, but for both systems to allow better and more services, according to Sun-Gazette reports.
And that's not the end of the changes for Susquehanna Health.
"We haven't stopped since 2012 is coming to a close," Johnson said.
Staying up to date
He did not want to wait another 20 years to start more major renovations. Instead, he wanted to focus on doing a project every year or couple of years.
"What we committed to is never getting behind again," he said.
Already in the works are new projects, including expanding and renovating the emergency room at Muncy Valley Hospital and the new YMCA, which will be built on the Williamsport Regional Medical Center campus but operated separately from it.
Although Johnson did not want to talk about his accomplishments, Gilmour said he had an important role in Project 2012.
"I think it's been established the vision for the project and then making sure that all the behind-the-scenes activities are in place," she said. "The funding had to be in place. The community had to support the project. The board of directors had to support it. He worked tirelessly."
Johnson worked in the community to purchase the houses to acquire the land necessary and with area businesses to get funding.
"He had all that work to do and, at the same time, he was very sensitive of the heritage of our community," Gilmour said. "He worked very hard to make sure the facility was appropriate for today and the future, that it was not too ostentatious and it was patient focused."