August 2005

New Hospital Council President Glad to Be Back Home

by John Fries

As a child growing up in the Beaver County during the 1960s and 70s, Alvin J. (AJ) Harper was fascinated by the world of medicine. It's something he can't really explain, even to this day, but it must have run in the family, since his uncle was a physician and he had cousins who were nurses.

In those days, the local Jones and Laughlin Steel Mill had a Young Explorers club, which enabled students to spend a series of weekends with a healthcare profession that interested them, with an eye toward making it a possible career choice.

Naturally, AJ chose to participate in the program hosted by Aliquippa Hospital. He had the opportunity to observe a wide variety of departments and to ask a lot of questions. One day, he felt truly in his element as he shadowed Mr. Boone, president of the hospital.

He never forgot that day, and ultimately, he built a career on it.

Now, after 25 years as a hospital and healthcare administrator in the Cleveland market, AJ Harper has returned home. This summer, he was named president of Hospital Council of Western Pennsylvania (HCWP).

"My career has come full circle," says Harper. "In Ohio, I worked in community and tertiary hospitals. My work focused on such areas as medical staff relations, project management, quality improvement, JCAHO, compliance and other regulatory work."

As president, he has a list of areas in which he sees HCWP, with 70 member hospitals and healthcare facilities in 30 counties, playing an active role.

"Our primary objective is to support our members as economically viable organizations in their respective communities. We will do this through meaningful initiatives that address reimbursement, expense reduction, advocacy, quality improvement, medical staff development, bioterrorism/emergency response, and community health" he says. "We'll continue to administer Flash surveys, salary and benefits surveys, and work with nursing and technology schools to help hospitals recruit key positions. I also plan to work closely with the Hospital Association of Pennsylvania."

Harper's career began in 1980, after receiving a bachelor's degree in health information management from the College of Medicine, School of Allied Health Professions at The Ohio State University. He later earned an MBA from Baldwin-Wallace College.

He began working in hospitals, first as assistant director of health information management at Marymount Hospital in Garfield Heights, then as director of health information management at Huron Road Hospital in Cleveland. He performed independent consulting preparing long-term care facilities and free-standing imaging centers for State of Ohio Health Department surveys.

In 1985, he began a long tenure at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, a 500 physician group practice and 1,000-bed hospital, initially serving as associate director of health data services and utilization management. He soon became director of patient access and, ultimately, administrative director of medical operations.

While at the Cleveland Clinic, he decentralized patient financial services to improve the flow of patients and information and implemented a resource utilization program using a cost-based clinical decision system. He also served as project management leader of several start-up initiatives, including a 34-bed observation unit, centralized pre-admission testing center, patient bed placement algorithm, a customer service program, and JCAHO survey preparation.

In 1992, he left for a time to serve as vice president of professional services for the Greater Cleveland Hospital Association's Center for Heath Affairs where he worked with hospital boards, administrators and others on a range of issues. The organization was similar in many ways to HCWP.

In 1997, he rejoined Marymount Hospital, now a member of the Cleveland Clinic Health System, as vice president of care management, serving primarily as the hospital's liaison with the medical staff.

In 2004, he was hired as administrator at Lake/University Ireland Cancer Center in Mentor, Ohio. There, he led the turnaround of a freestanding cancer center, implemented a number of significant changes to operational functions, established a medical advisory committee, implemented group purchasing contracts and a new billing process.

Although Harper has only been at Hospital Council for a very short time, he feels comfortable in the environment.

"Since Council's mission and culture is so similar to the Greater Cleveland Hospital Association, it's very familiar to me."

He looks forward to leading HCWP into the future, working closely with Council's long time partner Amerinet Central. His most important assignment is to "provide our members value for their dues dollars."

When not at HCWP, Harper spends as much time as possible with Jamie, his wife of 19 years and a native of Franklin, PA, and their two sons, Ben, 16, and John, 13. They own property in the Allegheny National Forest and enjoy hunting, fishing and camping.

And, as Harper is quick to point out, even after 25 years in Cleveland, he's an avid Steelers fan.

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