CUMBERLAND — Michele Martz said she couldn’t imagine what the past year of dealing with COVID-19 would have been like without help from a new parent corporation.
Western Maryland Health System roughly a year ago officially merged into the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center hospital network and became UPMC Western Maryland.
“It’s actually been a very fast year for sure,” Martz, UPMC Western Maryland’s president, said Friday. “Integration with UPMC was the definite highlight of the year. It seemed like after we started that integration things really came quickly with COVID and we had to react to that but we are so thankful to have UPMC behind us to support us through that process.”
That support included plenty of personal protective equipment for employees, she said.
“We never had a need or a want for anything,” Martz said. “You’re talking about thousands of gowns and masks and other equipment that we needed yet we had it at the ready.”
In the past year, UPMC Western Maryland added roughly a dozen physicians to its campus, she said.
“The UPMC brand makes (recruiting) so easy for us,” Martz said. “Also, UPMC shares … their physician resources. They bring them to our community so we can take care of our patients here.”
Specialty services including vascular surgery have been made easier with the merger, she said.
“That was an area where our patients had to travel to Hagerstown for some of the procedures,” Martz said. “Now, the vascular surgeons from UPMC are here on a monthly basis doing those procedures right here in Cumberland.”
A pediatric cardiologist also regularly visits the local hospital system, she said.
“We’re going to expand our pediatric specialty services here in the summer so that we can take care of those most vulnerable patients,” Martz said, and added the pediatric services will include endocrinology and neurology.
She called the hospital system’s 2,100 employees including frontline workers and support staff “health care heroes” that helped the hospital system manage additional patients as COVID-19 hit the community in the fall.
“Our staff stepped up,” Martz said. “As we recognize our anniversary this week, we continue to thank each and every one of them for the care that they provided to our community. They covered for each other, they worked extra shifts, it’s just been outstanding.”
The pandemic has caused the past year to be heartbreaking for the community in many ways, she said.
“Our staff members were taking care of their coworkers, their families, sometimes their friends, their neighbors,” Martz said. “It’s a small town. We’re all in this together.”
Despite the pandemic, UPMC Western Maryland pursued plans including the opening of its Center for Hope and Healing — a $1.25 million, 24-hour residential treatment center for substance abuse and behavioral health located near the hospital’s main campus on the site of the former Allegany County Girls Group Home that closed in 2016.
The hospital system’s foundation and auxiliary raised funds to help open the facility, she said.
“We’re all so very proud of that,” Martz said. “That gives our patients another option when they’re discharged from the hospital to make a smoother transition out into the community.”
Urgent care areas were also expanded in areas including Frostburg and South Cumberland, she said.
“We also were doing lots of COVID testing at the same time through these facilities,” Martz said.
UPMC Western Maryland is “here for the community,” she said.
“We want our patients to continue to come here,” Martz said. “They don’t need to be afraid to come here. We have a safe, effective environment.”
Meanwhile, she reminded area residents to check the Allegany County Health Department’s online COVID-19 vaccine interest form.
“I don’t think any of us can get back to normal until we get our community vaccinated, and we know that’s going to take quite a while,” Martz said. “Our community has to remember to continue to wash their hands, wear their masks, practice social distancing … until our whole community is vaccinated and we can all get back to life as we knew it.”