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Warmer weather giving a boost to municipalities, salt supplies

When the temperature crept over 70 on Saturday afternoon, it was a boon to anyone who wanted to take a ride on the bike they unwrapped at Christmas or throw a Frisbee in a park.

The spate of unusually mild January weather Southwestern Pennsylvania has been enjoying has also been a blessing for municipalities that have not had to deploy crews to spread salt on icy or snow-covered roads.

Tom Lovell, the public works director for North Strabane Township, said his department would probably have used three times as much road salt at this point in a more typical January. While many residents of the region have been able to leave their own snow shovels and bags of salt untouched since winter officially arrived last month, crews in North Strabane have had to venture out on select occasions to treat some spots on roads after snow has fallen, but not to the extent they have in previous winters.

In the absence of noteworthy snowfalls, crews in South Fayette Township have been able to tend to other jobs, like mending roads and fixing storm drains, according to Andrea Iglar, the township’s communications director.

“Instead of waiting until spring, they’re doing that now,” she explained.

Iglar also said the township had used less salt so far this year compared to last year, “but it’s the weather, so you never know when it’s going to catch up with us.”

The average high temperature this time of year is 35 degrees, according to Jenna Lake, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Moon Township, so forecast highs in the 50s today and Wednesday will still be well above the norm even if they are not as sultry as Saturday’s temperatures. Much of the unseasonal warmth is due to a high pressure system that has settled in over the region. Lake said more typical weather would probably be arriving by the end of the month.

She also pointed out that region has received about 9 inches of snow so far this season, but that it’s been of the “nickel and dime” variety.

Sales of salt and snow shovels have been lagging compared to last year at Busy Beaver hardware store in Washington, said Dan Leach, the store’s general manager. He said the store generally experiences an influx of customers when the forecast calls for snow.

And that eventually could come, of course. February and March are looming just over the horizon.

“It’s out of our control,” Lovell said. “We just have to be prepared for it.”

Carmichaels fencing manufacturer donating materials to Australian fire victims

As wildfires continue to devastate Australia, a Greene County fencing company is doing what it can to help the citizens begin to rebuild.

The fires in Australia have been raging since July. So far, they have killed 28 people and destroyed thousands of homes. An estimated one billion animals have been displaced, with millions dead.

John Wall Inc. manufactures its Horserail fencing in Carmichaels, and has distributors around the globe that sell its products – including Australia.

John Wall, the owner and founder, came to Pennsylvania from his native New Zealand in 1969. After about a decade of doing consultant work, he got into the fencing business.

“I was dissatisfied with the materials available to the American farmer compared to what I was accustomed to in New Zealand,” Wall said.

Wall began selling high-tensile, smooth wire fencing, which had proved popular with his neighbors in Greene County, he said. Today, his company sells fencing and related products under the name “Horserail.”

The fencing is mainly meant for horse containment, Wall said, and is popular among veterinarians. His company advertises the fencing as being stronger and safer for horses.

John Wall Inc. is sending nearly 57 miles of fencing material to Australia, and that includes nearly every product the company offers.

With the donated material, Wall says farmers and others who have had their property destroyed by the fires will be able to rebuild their fences.

This is not the first time Wall’s business has assisted with relief efforts. He said the company made similar donations about seven years ago, when the Australian state of Victoria experienced a deadly fire season.

“My wife and I went down there and toured the devastation of those fires,” Wall said. “Oh, gosh, it was terrible. Our product was very much appreciated.”

Wall has heard as much directly from those who have benefited from the donations when he visits Australia for trade shows.

“It’s remarkable how many people will come up and thank us and really appreciate the efforts we’re making,” Wall said.

He also expressed thanks to his staff, who has volunteered their time to load containers and fill out paperwork for the shipping.

“It’s an effort by all the staff,” Wall said.

The company’s website, horserail.com, features a link to donate to the Australian Red Cross.

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WVU Medicine adding pediatrics in Greene, Uniontown Hospital to system

WVU Medicine announced two initiatives Monday morning that will expand its Southwestern Pennsylvania portfolio.

West Virginia University Health System, operating under the name WVU Medicine, reported it is expanding services at the Franklin Township outpatient center it opened four months ago, and even more significantly, Uniontown Hospital has signed a letter of intent to join it.

WVU Medicine Children’s will open a general pediatrics clinic next Monday at the Greene facility on Murtha Drive. Patient convenience is a driving force behind the inclusion of pediatrics.

“We already have a number of families from Waynesburg and Greene County who bring their children to Morgantown for appointments with our pediatricians ... demand for those services has been steadily increasing,” said Amy Bush-Marone, WVU Medicine Children’s chief operating officer, in a news release.

Physicians Adriana Diakiw, Janani Narumanchi and Isabela Negrin will see patients in Greene. Hours there will be from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. For an appointment, call 855-WVU-CARE.

Uniontown Hospital also announced the letter of intent Monday, deepening a relationship with the health system that began when the hospital parted ways with University of Pittsburgh Medical Center last year.

The goal for both sides is for Uniontown Hospital to become a full member hospital within the WVU Health System by the beginning of 2021. Both sides hope to enter into a clinical affiliation management services agreement this spring Uniontown Hospital and WVU Health System executives said will lay the groundwork for the hospital’s full membership in the system, which operates under the WVU Medicine brand.

“(We want) to sustain service in our community, and that’s what we believe our relationship with WVU does,” Uniontown Hospital CEO Steve Handy said.

Albert L. Wright Jr., chief executive officer and president of WVU Health System, said the merger was a good thing for his organization.

“I think this is a great day for WVU Medicine,” he said. “I think this is a great day for Uniontown and Fayette County. You’ve got my promise that we’re going to be good partners with you up there.”

WVU Medicine has staffed the hospital’s inpatient emergency department and hospitalist physician services since July, taking those roles over from UPMC after a seven-year physician relationship between UPMC and Uniontown Hospital ended June 30.

Wright said for Uniontown Hospital and WVU Medicine the clinical affiliation agreement would result in more WVU Medicine branding for the hospital prior to full membership within WVU Health System. Handy said it would allow time to hash out the finer points of full membership.

“We’re a $150 million operation with 1,200 employees,” Handy said. “It takes time to work out the details.”

Both Wright and Handy likened the clinical affiliation agreement to a wedding engagement.

“This would be the equivalent of putting an engagement ring on a partner,” Wright said. “… We’re going to work together in a unified way toward a marriage.”

Any nuptials between Uniontown Hospital and WVU Medicine would have to come after approval from the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General since the hospital is a nonprofit organization, Handy and Wright acknowledged.

Uniontown Hospital announced last January it was exploring a partnership with WVU Medicine.

The WVU Health System is West Virginia’s largest health system and largest private employer, composed of 11 owned hospitals that Wright said would increase to 12 with Wetzel County Hospital in New Martinsville, W.Va., and 13 with Uniontown Hospital.

Handy said WVU Medicine will take on Uniontown Hospital’s roughly $40 million debt and provide crucial aid in physician staffing.

Handy will become an employee of WVU Hospitals along with other senior leaders at Uniontown, but Handy said the hospital’s six-member executive council will continue to oversee day-to-day operations at the hospital.

WVU Medicine’s plans to open a 25,000-square-foot outpatient facility on the grounds of the Sisters of St. Basil in North Union Township are on hold, according to Wright, who said WVU Medicine did not have its planned partnership with Uniontown Hospital in place when it began working on that project.

“We paused that until we know exactly what we need long-term up in Uniontown,” Wright said.

WVU Medicine opened an obstetrics clinic with an obstetrician and a midwife at 211 Easy St. in Uniontown last month.

Handy and Wright said a partnership between their organizations could lead to expanded medical services, although a reopened birthing center is unlikely.

“I think most of the doctors there today will continue to practice there,” Wright said.