Posts Tagged ‘Johnstown’

I Remember Stephen

June 2nd, 2010

In the 1970’s, my career was wrapped completely around teaching, not just teaching, but teaching and playing music.  It was during that decade that my trumpet playing reached its peak, and between the numerous big bands in the area, I could play at least two weekend and one weekday nights every week.  The music was good, the musicians were friends, and the audiences were appreciative.

Johnstown Pennsylvania - A History - Part 2 - Randy WhittleThe Lemon Drop, Casa Romani, Mynderbinders, Bimbo’s, the Holiday Inn, the Ramada Inn, and a dozen other clubs with mostly ethnic or fraternal names were the sites of many a part-time playing job.  Be it the Johnstown Jazz Workshop, the Barnum and Bailey Circus, the Ice Capades, or Disney on Ice, my playing salary for the year often rivaled my teaching salary; neither of which came to more than $500 a month.

Along with those playing “gigs” there was one other primary, part -time employment opportunity and that was teaching private trumpet lessons.  It was my choice to teach at the Johnstown College of Music which was owned by Peg and Bob Hornick.  My schedule there was always packed full from 5:30 PM until 9:00 PM Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturday mornings.  There were kids of all ages from all school districts, and in the 1970’s those kids helped me pay the mortgage.  Even though I was usually pretty tired by 9:00 PM and often dreamed of learning to sleep with my eyes open, I never did.

One of my smallest students was Steve.  He was a little toe-headed, 7th grader from Forest Hills when he came to me, and he loved music.  He loved the fact that he was learning to play the trumpet from a professional and each week he got a little better.  Steve understood what it meant to work for something that he loved, and he didn’t mind getting an occasional tongue lashing if he hadn’t focused enough on his practicing that week.

Well, one night in 1976, I rushed through dinner, grabbed my jacket, and started for the door when my son, then three years old, stopped me and said, “Daddy, where are you going?”  I explained that I had to go to work.  He very slowly replied, “Daddy, you just came home from work.”  I signed and said, “I know, buddy, but I have to make some extra money.”  He looked at me quizzically and said, “What for, Daddy?”   To which I countered, “To buy you shoes.”  At that point he looked up at me and said in a very stern voice, “Daddy, I have shoes; please don’t leave me.”

It broke my heart to leave that night, but I did because I knew that I had an obligation, and when my first student walked in the door, I took a deep breath and thought to myself, “Steve, I’m here for you tonight, “ but those words were never spoken.
Ironically, there was an obituary in the newspaper last week, and it was an obituary for a 47 year old man who also left behind a son.  The age and the picture drew me further into the printed word where I read a name that seemed strangely familiar to me, Stephen Yanzetich.  It was Steve, my Steve, little 7th grade, toe-headed Steve who shared me that night.

Unbelievably, after 34 or so years, in his parting recognition, the author acknowledged that I had taught Steve trumpet, and as I sat back and read my own name in that obituary, I realized, once again, that it had been worth it, that 34 years later my time with Steve had been important to both of us.  That simple acknowledgement said to me, “Thank you, Mr. Jacobs, for caring enough about me to teach me all of those nights.”  To which I can candidly reply,”Thank you, Steve, for being such a good kid, and may God bless you.”


Congressman John P. Murtha

February 9th, 2010

Yesterday’s phone call from the Somerset Daily American caught me off guard.  “Hi, Nick, have you heard?  Congressman Murtha passed away this afternoon.  Could you give us a quote?”  the reporter said.   Truthfully, I was not ready for this call.  Having talked to friends who had been with him only a week earlier, everything seemed like it was going to be okay, but obviously, okay was not what it was.  He had one of the 500,000 or so laparoscopic cholesystectomies performed each year to remove a gallbladder.  This surgery has a .05% complication rate, but the call proved that, regardless of the percentages, there is always risk from human involvement.

The Late Rep. John Murtha I’ve decided to dedicate this as a very personal look back at my journey with Jack Murtha.  Ironically, we had grown up practically as Pennsylvania neighbors in Westmoreland/Fayette Counties.  My first real meeting with Mr. Murtha was during the 1977 Johnstown Flood.  I was a young teacher and volunteer who was mopping the floors of the relief centers,  getting things ready for survivors who had lost their homes when I heard a helicopter come flying in and saw a tall, impressive, 44 year old Congressman deplane.  He had only been in Congress for a few years, but had clearly learned enough about the  System to keep then-President Carter on his toes and get legislation passed to help his home district.

My very next encounter with Mr. Murtha wasn’t until about three years later, when his Washington office called me to see if they could help my employer at that time, Laurel Arts of Somerset, with a bill that was going through the House before Ronald Reagan took office.  Nothing came out of that call except for the fact that I realized that his employees were parents of former students and people who liked and respected my work from those days.

Then the big encounter hit.  Mr. Murtha was looking into bringing the National Park Service into Cambria County to start what became the America’s Industrial Heritage (Tourism Development) Project.  He and several other Congressmen came to the University of Pittsburgh in Johnstown to hold a Congressional hearing on the project, and, as the newly-elected President of the Laurel Highlands Convention and Visitors Bureau, I testified against the plan and explained that if they didn’t include Westmoreland, Somerset, and Fayette Counties, we would not display any literature promoting it at all of the tourist sites that we controlled.  They agreed, and not many months later, he ended up representing Fayette County as part of his district.   It worked out for both of us.

A few years later, I had transitioned into healthcare senior leadership and  invited Mr. Murtha to introduce Bob Hope at a fund raising event for the Mercy Hospital of Johnstown.  Approximately 6,000 people were in attendance and Mr. Murtha got as much applause as Mr. Hope.  The following year he helped us bring in Henry Mancini and his orchestra for a similar event and our respect for each other began to grow.

Rep. Murtha speaking at Biotechnology expo (2004)

Rep. John P. Murtha speaking at Biotechnology Expo (2004)

In 1997, when I became the President of Windber Medical Center, Mr. Murtha and I were seated near each other at a dinner party.  It was there that we  began to discuss healthcare, and his vision for the future.  Anything that would help the soldiers stay well, prevent illness, or stop it before it became an issue was his goal.  I heard him speak at the opening of one of his many health center initiatives at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and he said, “I have 13 honorary degrees, hundreds of awards, and am well known as for my work in defense, but I want my legacy to be healthcare, prevention, and wellness.

His contributions to healthcare, however  small they may seem compared to what he has done for the world and for mankind, through his tireless and dedicated work were where his heart was.  His strength and vision made him the most impressive human being that I have ever known, and my love and respect for both him and his wife, Joyce, cannot be calculated in mere human measurements.  I am proud of him, his work, and his commitment, and I know that the seeds that he has planted in Breast Cancer Research will go on to save thousands of lives someday.

Ironically, it was healthcare that took his life.  No one can ever replace Jack Mutha; his knowledge of the system, his guts and determination, his singular efforts to help a district that had been devastated by natural disaster, his kindness and great personality.  No one.  So, today, I write with great sadness that our great friend is gone, but at the same time, I vow that his name, his contributions to humanity, and his memory will never be gone.

Look at or, and see what Jack Murtha built.  We loved you, Jack.


The Health Care Reality

May 15th, 2009

1979 was the year in Johnstown, Pennsylvania when I decided that it was time to leave teaching and transition into business.  For those of you who don’t remember that year, it was the beginning of some serious financial challenges for our country, but it was also two years after the Johnstown Flood of ’77, and there was an unemployment rate of 19.5% in Cambria County, PA.

1979 Rolling Stone cover Blues Brothers SNL Dan Ackroyd John BelushiIn 1980, when I accepted a job with a then bankrupt nonprofit organization in Somerset, PA, what had been a booming coal industry went into the skids. My house mortgage was about the same as the unemployment rate, 19%.  The job that I took was in the arts and Ronald Reagan was interested in cutting funding to the National Endowment for the Arts.

In 1985, my new job was with a tourism agency, and that was the year that then-PA Governor Casey cut funding to tourism.

In 1988, when I entered healthcare, it was clear that Johnstown could no longer support four hospitals, and the next decade and a half resulted in the closing of two (and almost three) of the four hospitals in that area.

Turn the clock forward to last October, when I announced my decision to become a healthcare consultant.  The stock market crashed, eight of every ten hospitals stopped, postponed, or scaled back needed capital projects, 58% of hospitals are now reporting  increases in uninsured patients using the emergency departments, 48% of hospitals have cut staff, and 80% have reported cutting expenses that include consultants.

As a consultant, the first thing I would tell anyone is that “No matter how bad things appear to be, you can do it.”

  • Our successes as a teacher continue to remain evident as former students ranging in age from 38 to 58 continue to remind me of great memories of our time together.
  • The arts organization became the largest and most successful rural arts organization east of the Mississippi.
  • The Convention Bureau went from almost closed to the fifth largest agency in the State, and most of you have tracked the successes that we experienced at Windber.

Not unlike the little engine that could, we focused on the positive, forgot about the negative, and never dealt with “Mr. In-between.”


There are those who approach life cautiously, carefully, and very conservatively, and then there are those of us who drink from that same cup in big gulps and dream about how things could be rather than how they are.  There are those who are afraid of failure, and those of us who embrace failure because we know that it is getting us closer to more dramatic successes.

The only boundaries that we have are between our ears.

Because the future is a design function. Let me close this blog post with the ending from my commencement address to the graduate students of St. Francis University (with the help once again of Dr. Leland Kaiser):

  • Nothing has to be the way it is.
  • We can invent (or prevent) our future, because all limitations are self imposed.
  • We can empower ourselves to create a new world.
  • Reframe any limitations to become opportunities because…
  • Tremendous limitations breed success. They open doors.

So, as we design our future, remember that we should not work to create what people will like, but instead work to create what people will love!

…and we will know success beyond our wildest dreams.


Two Guys Medical Center

January 9th, 2009

Back in the early nineties, two of my peers replicated the pro forma and business plan of an offer made by a for profit hospital system that was interested in buying a specific medical center. They then presented it to a religious order and ended up buying a hospital which many of us began to refer to as “Two Guys Medical Center.” The difference was that, unlike the religious order, they were interested in it for some personal financial gain, the American way. Once the cash flow turned into a trickle, they found their way clear of ownership with heavy golden parachutes from the organization that bought the hospital, and it became the gift that kept on giving. All in all I’m sure that it was a very lucrative series of events that, after their or my death would make for a great fiction novel.

As I prepared for my departure from my previous employer, the entire issue of identifying someone to continue to carry the torch of leadership weighed heavily on my mind. Succession planning, if you will, was never far from my thoughts. With that in mind, I looked into the region and found, well, two guys. These two guys were very different from the previous two mentioned. They were committed to the good of mankind on so many levels that no one could question their personal intentions. Over a year later, the reality of their futures does not lie firmly in my hands when succession is discussed, but they certainly are two people to watch as the region’s health systems continue to morph medically.

Only four short years ago, Tom Kurtz, one of my two recruits, was working diligently every day in every way to ensure that four heart stents was an inadequate number for my chest. It had been his job at the competitor to literally master my strategic plan and to replicate it at an even higher level. He found federal, state, and local funds to begin a neuro-science center, research in post polio syndrome, work in anesthesia that would be converted to the battlefield, and, in his spare time to build and promote a Tech Park for the City of Johnstown.

We were usually friendly, but fierce competitors. He honestly has never told me the entire story of his journey with his former employer’s leadership, but I’m sure it would fill about ten of these blog posts. Tom was a master at political nuance and learned quite a bit about grants from the Department of Defense. He not only knew where to find them, he learned how to get the monies delivered to the projects for which he was responsible. Tom is progressive, aggressive, and knowledgeable about both the need to find sustainability on the research side and growth on the hospital side. When it comes to the “vision thing,” Tom embraced that as well. He’s not one of those cant-see-the-forest-for-the-trees guys. In fact, he is just the opposite of that. He sees the big picture and quickly embraces just exactly how things can be in the future with a little guts and a lot of persistence.

Dr. Matt Masiello

Then came Matt. Dr. Matt Masiello has been a friend for over a decade. He represents almost everything that I embrace philosophically. Matt is a gentle and kind man who fully comprehends the value of treating human beings like human beings. A background as a pediatrician has enabled him to understand compassion, and after having been in charge of intensive care for years, he has also learned of the heartbreak that this profession can bring. Dr. Matt captured my attention a year or so ago when, like me, he got involved with the World Health Organization. This time, however, he went way beyond my wildest dreams and has literally been appointed the U.S. representative for the WHO.

When my short history on this planet is finally written, let it be said that Matt and Tom have had a tremendous impact on our community, our region, and now our world as special attention is given to breast cancer research, and as health and wellness, prevention and anti-bullying programs are nurtured, cultivated, and grown by these two men. No, it’s not “Two Guys Medical Center,” but it sure is a medical center that has been positively impacted by two guys. Keep up the good work, Matt and Tom. This region needs you.


In Their Own Words: Patients, staff and physicians on their experiences at Nick’s Planetree hospital

October 5th, 2008

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