Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Doctor's Orders

One year at the helm of the West Penn Allegheny Health System, Dr. Christopher Olivia, M.D., M.B.A., aims to unify the organization and improve health care in Western Pennsylvania.



(page 1 of 2)

He's a trim guy, a runner. Not an extra pound on him. He has great dark eyes and repeats the points he wants to make like a good teacher.
Dr. Christopher T. Olivia, 46, who has just completed his first year as president and CEO of the West Penn Allegheny Health System (WPAHS), is not comfortable being called "Dr. Olivia." "Call me Chris," he says. The "Dr. Olivia" designation makes him think someone is talking to his dad, a retired physician.

Olivia came to Pittsburgh for two reasons. "I really like the people here. We have excellent nurses and doctors. Medicine starts with that... The No. 2 reason is to prevent the monopolization of health care services in Western Pennsylvania." And he says the latter without referring to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), the 20-hospital burgeoning medical system that has gobbled up most of the Pittsburgh-area hospitals in the past several decades - and has expanded internationally with facilities in Italy, Ireland and Qatar and other operations in the United Kingdom.

Olivia states, "UPMC is a fine institution." But he also stresses repeatedly that WPAHS is "in Pittsburgh, for Pittsburgh." One major difference he sees between the two systems is about whether excess earnings from a health care system such as UPMC should be used to fund college scholarships for local students or be returned to the health care system to fund research, improve services and serve those who have little or no health insurance. "It's all been about money and excess earnings that go into things outside of health care," he says, referring to the Pittsburgh Promise, UPMC and its $100 million commitment to fund college costs for Pittsburgh city and charter high school graduates.

Scholarships, Olivia acknowledges, "are all good from the standpoint of societal good, but they have nothing to do with health care." That mission," he says, "has to be about taking care of people; about educating [medical] students, residents, fellows; investing in research and taking proceeds and reinvesting in programs to cover the uninsured. The debate needs to be shifted away from money."

People always ask Olivia how he feels about competing with UPMC. He says when he wakes up in the middle of the night, he's not thinking about "what UPMC is doing." He's worrying about what WPAHS "is doing and not doing."

What kind of guy is Chris Olivia, the man who came to town to play David against the Goliath of UPMC? Read his bio and you'll guess he's a hard-working, pragmatic, clear-thinking leader. He's "old-fashioned" enough, he says, to read hard-copy newspapers daily: The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He likes watching movies with his wife, Laurie, and sons, Joseph, 10, and Alex, 8. He admits to bleeding blue and white for Penn State, his alma mater.

Meanwhile, back at the challenging task of reorganizing a lot of diverse organizations into a single working entity: Olivia finds the job as exciting as a roaring Nittany Lion. WPAHS has developed a mission statement over the past year that Olivia feels it can achieve, including "quality health care, personalized service for patients and educational programs and research that support those programs." The vehicle to get there, he maintains, is "financial stability." His team has found $100 million in cost-saving and revenue enhancements by eliminating duplication of back office work, renegotiating contracts (including one with Highmark) and considering more flexibility in staffing, though not all have been implemented.

Olivia has guided a reorganization of the medical system's senior management with appointments of vice presidents and medical officers in each hospital. He's also done some heavy-duty recruiting from UPMC. "We've been blessed," he says when talking about the hiring of Dr. Peter Linden, a critical-care specialist who handles patient care in the intensive-care unit; Dr. Michael DeVita, a medical ethicist; and Dr. Kasum Tom, a transplant surgeon, who joined Dr. Ngoc Thai, director of abdominal transplantation, who left UPMC a year ago.

"Physicians will vote with their feet to be part of something they have a bigger say in," Olivia told the Pittsburgh Business Times in February. And three more UPMC physicians did just that in early March: Dr. Steven Bowles, senior critical-care specialist at UPMC Mercy, and critical-care fellows Dr. Christopher Brackney and Dr. Subbarao Elapavaluru.

Both Allegheny General Hospital and the Western Pennsylvania Hospital, original components in the founding of WPAHS, were recently listed among the 100 top hospitals for cardiovascular care in the country by health care analysts at Thomson Reuters. They were the only Pittsburgh hospitals so recognized. Substantial WPAHS strengths Olivia cites are in transplantation, cardiovascular care, neuroscience, trauma and critical care, bone-joint disease, cancer and the West Penn Burn Center. The Pittsburgh Pirates medical staff, headed by Dr. Patrick DeMeo, director of sports medicine at Allegheny General and the key physician in bone-joint disease, was named the best in the nation by major-league baseball.

Discussing hospitals that struggle financially, Olivia points out the disparities between Eastern and Western Pennsylvania in the payment of Medicaid. "Hospitals in Philadelphia of the same ilk, of the same background, the same team or non-team status are paid substantially more than hospitals in Western Pennsylvania" because of an initial flawed formula, he says. Describing the problem, Olivia goes on to explain:

"Originally, the program was based on what hospitals and doctors charged. And in 1987 [with introduction of Medicaid], the state fixed the reimbursement based on that historical charge rate [and] inflated it relatively equally for hospitals over the next 22 years. So that if you have a disparity when you start, and inflate everybody's reimbursement 2 to 3 percent each year, that compounding effect will widen that disparity over time. And that's what happened. And so when you look, we believe there could be as much as $100 million, maybe in excess of that, largely because of the East versus West disparity."

For example, Bryn Mawr Hospital, in one of the most affluent areas in the state, is paid more than Armstrong County Hospital. Olivia sees that disparity as having hurt hospitals depending on Medicaid such as St. Francis, which has closed, and Mercy, now part of UPMC, as well as West Penn. Such distributions he terms simply as "unjust."

According to the American Hospital Association, hospitals nationwide have slipped 2 percent to 3 percent in volume of business. People are putting off elective surgery in today's economy, but says Olivia, "Our volumes [for all surgeries] are actually up this year. So that's a good sign." However, he told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review in March that the recession and decrease in numbers of people with health insurance will cut into profits. Charity care, given to those who can't pay, went up by 20 percent in the first half of the fiscal year, he noted.

One key area of focus for Olivia is the integration of the WPAHS hospitals and the creation of a more cohesive system, including the reorganization of the leadership structure.

When Olivia's predecessor at WPAHS, Jerry Fedele, resigned in July 2007, one reason for his departure could have been not achieving that goal. A Pittsburgh Post-Gazette report at the time said that a group of Allegheny General physicians approached WPAHS chairman David McClenahan "with concerns about the CEO." The article cited they "lacked confidence" in Fedele's "ability to complete the long-promised, full-fledged consolidation" of Allegheny General and West Penn Hospital.

(According to IRS forms, Fedele earned $861,000 at the time of his resignation. A WPAHS spokesman declined to comment on Olivia's compensation.)

Olivia, on the other hand, was praised by WPAHS temporary president/CEO Keith Smith as having "a strong penchant for relationship building." Smith praised Olivia's "ability to bring people and programs together in a most cohesive and productive fashion."

A few weeks after Olivia started on the job, he was faced with a more immediate challenge - a financial one. WPAHS is cooperating with the Securities and Exchange Commission, which is conducting an inquiry into a $73 million writedown - which means "reducing the book value of an asset because it is overvalued compared to the market value," according to Investopedia - in its financial reporting, caused by overestimating patient revenue. That resulted in a reduced bond rating, which was recently raised to BB again.

Olivia has had success in handling financial problems in the past. He came to WPAHS from Cooper Health System in Camden, N.J. Recalling his arrival at Cooper, Olivia recently told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "We had hours of cash on hand... We were in danger of not making payroll." That system faced bankruptcy when he took it over. It was located in "one of the poorest, most violent cities in America," he says.
 

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

The Latest

Director and “Mr. McFeely” Discuss “Won't You Be My Neighbor?”

The director of the forthcoming Mr. Rogers documentary sits down with the longtime Mr. McFeely and Pittsburgh Magazine.

Pittsburgh Teen Chess Phenom to Host Her First-Ever Tourney

Chess enthusiast Ashley Lynn Priore hopes to enrich the Steel City’s involvement in one of the most classic and challenging of board games.

Hungry for Something Good, Pittsburgh? Where We're Eating in June

We're obsessed with Greekfreez vegan frozen treats, taking a first look at the new menu at Independent Brewing Company and traveling to The Tavern on the Square. Plus, we talk to Poulet Bleu pastry chef James D. Wroblewski II.

Working in a Steel Mill Turns Fantastical in 'The Glass Lung'

Pittsburgher Anjali Sachdeva’s first book blends the normal with fantasy in nine short stories.

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in June

This month's best bets in the ’Burgh.

Pittsburgh Flicks and Nightlife in June

PM Nightlife Editor Sean Collier explores the popularity of Coughlin's Law on Mt. Washington and the future of Jump Cut Theater.

Pittsburgh's Can't Miss Concerts in June

The Pittsburgh music calendar is packed this month. Check out some of our suggestions for the best ways to spend those steamy summer nights.

June: Best of Culture in Pittsburgh

Check out some of the finest stage plays, dance performances and exhibits taking place this month in Pittsburgh.

Undercover: What We're Reading in June

Reviews of Smoketown: The Untold Story of the Other Great Black Renaissance by Mark Whitaker and Abandoned Pittsburgh: Steel and Shadows by Chuck Beard

Perspectives: How Cold Is Too Cold for Spiders to Live?

A former Marine and Pittsburgh firefighter comes face-to-face with his biggest fear.

Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh Faces Centennial Challenges

This year marks a milestone anniversary — and questions regarding the emerging digital economy — for the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh.

Highmark Stadium Struggles To Accommodate Music Fans

The Station Square venue could be a good place to see a concert. It's not there yet.

CMU Launches America’s First Degree in Artificial Intelligence

Starting this fall, undergraduates at Carnegie Mellon will have the option to earn a degree in one of the world’s fastest growing fields.

Hog Wild at Fallen Aspen Farm

Owners Jake Kristophel and Desiree Sirois are committed to compassionate animal husbandry at Fallen Aspen Farm.

This is Where ‘Pittsburgh's Paul Bunyan’ Would Have Lived

The living emblem of Pittsburgh steelwork, immortalized in a Braddock statue, has been reborn with a titular space in Bloomfield.
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags


Director and “Mr. McFeely” Discuss “Won't You Be My Neighbor?”

Director and “Mr. McFeely” Discuss “Won't You Be My Neighbor?”

The director of the forthcoming Mr. Rogers documentary sits down with the longtime Mr. McFeely and Pittsburgh Magazine.

Comments

Pittsburgh Teen Chess Phenom to Host Her First-Ever Tourney

Pittsburgh Teen Chess Phenom to Host Her First-Ever Tourney

Chess enthusiast Ashley Lynn Priore hopes to enrich the Steel City’s involvement in one of the most classic and challenging of board games.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Lorelei Will Open in the Former Livermore/Pines Space

Lorelei Will Open in the Former Livermore/Pines Space

The owners of Independent Brewing Company and Hidden Harbor plan to bring a beer hall and cafe to East Liberty.

Comments

An Inclusive Community Breaks the Ramadan Fast at Salem's Market & Grill

An Inclusive Community Breaks the Ramadan Fast at Salem's Market & Grill

The Strip District restaurant draws a diverse community to its nightly ifṭār buffet.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
Best Places to Introduce Children to the Performing Arts

Best Places to Introduce Children to the Performing Arts

When you see a show at one of these organizations, you may enjoy it as much as the children.

Comments

The 4 Best Sports to Try This Spring in Pittsburgh

The 4 Best Sports to Try This Spring in Pittsburgh

Looking to switch up your physical activity now that it finally feels like spring? We found four sports you can play locally that you may never have considered.

Comments


Highmark Stadium Struggles To Accommodate Music Fans

Highmark Stadium Struggles To Accommodate Music Fans

The Station Square venue could be a good place to see a concert. It's not there yet.

Comments

Take a Tricky Trip To Mars at Escape Room 51

Take a Tricky Trip To Mars at Escape Room 51

The new escape room in Pleasant Hills is a great game for newer players.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Here We Go? Steelers Have More Than a New England Issue This Time

Here We Go? Steelers Have More Than a New England Issue This Time

At this time last year the Steelers perceived themselves, and rightfully so, as a team that was a mere win over the Patriots away from returning to the Super Bowl. This year, the focus is elsewhere.

Comments

Surprising Pirates Proving to be an Acquired Taste This Season

Surprising Pirates Proving to be an Acquired Taste This Season

For the time being, at least, fans continue to send owner Bob Nutting a message wrapped in apathy.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
The 400-Word Review: Solo: A Star Wars Story

The 400-Word Review: Solo: A Star Wars Story

The Star Wars series experiments with telling an origin story, with mixed results.

Comments

The 400-Word Review: Pope Francis: A Man of His Word

The 400-Word Review: Pope Francis: A Man of His Word

The careful documentary is a valuable document of the pontiff's philosophy. As a film, there are issues.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Wine Classes Keep the Pre-Wedding Celebration Classy

Wine Classes Keep the Pre-Wedding Celebration Classy

Palate Partners School of Wine & Spirits offers a chance for brides- and grooms-to-be to explore libations before (or instead of) a night on the town.

Comments

He Recovers from Stroke to Officiate Granddaughter's Wedding

He Recovers from Stroke to Officiate Granddaughter's Wedding

It was always Ashley Watkins’ dream to have her grandfather perform her wedding ceremony — but a serious illness almost got in the way.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
From Milan to Pittsburgh: These are the Kitchen Concepts of the Future

From Milan to Pittsburgh: These are the Kitchen Concepts of the Future

Local interior designer Lauren Levant traveled to Italy for the influential Salon del Mobile show featuring the latest innovations in the furniture and design industry. With an emphasis on quality over quantity, these are the kitchen concepts she says will be making their way stateside.

Comments

Get Creative: Pittsburgh Podcast Inspires 'Girl Bosses'

Get Creative: Pittsburgh Podcast Inspires 'Girl Bosses'

Thinking about starting a creative business but don't know where to start? From photography to interior design, Gamechangers, the new podcast from local textile designer Savannah Hayes, gives a behind-the-scenes look at the design industry from the female perspective.

Comments