Former reporter recalls Murtha’s commitment to health care

By Shawn Piatek

I was fortunate to have the opportunity over the past six years to become acquainted with the late U.S. Rep. John P. Murtha.

Mr. Murtha was an institution in my life, just as he was for anyone living in the state’s 12th Congressional District during the past 36 years. He was elected earlier in the same year in which I was born. He was a larger-than-life fixture in the Johnstown region.

From afar, like most people, I always linked Jack to the defense industry. It made sense. He served on, and eventually chaired, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense and was linked to many defense companies either established or drawn to the 12th Congressional District.

It was only when, as a reporter for the Johnstown Tribune-Democrat, I got to see Mr. Murtha up close that I realized his passion for health care issues. While the big news of many days with the congressman dealt with a defense industry deal of some sort, any time he could fit in some conversation about health care topics he would do so.

He was passionate about diabetes, a disease that disproportionately affects residents of western Pennsylvania as well as members of the military. Over the course of his career, Mr. Murtha directed more than $150 million for diabetes research, prevention, education and outreach.

Similarly, Mr. Murtha saw a gap in women’s health services in western Pennsylvania – and again, the military, as well – and stepped up to the plate with funding to solve problems. He provided more than $2.5 billion for breast cancer research through the Department of Defense. He established ties between western Pennsylvania hospitals and renowned military health care facilities such as Walter Reed Army Medical Center and Bethesda Naval Hospital which has led to research that could revolutionize the early detection and treatment of breast cancer.

Along the same lines of women’s health care, he helped to establish one of the few facilities bearing his family name that is not named for him – the Joyce Murtha Breast Care Center at Chan Soon-Shiong Medical Center at Windber, Windber, Pa. The facility offers breast care options – such as digital mammography – that are not found elsewhere and were not available previously in the Laurel Highlands region.

Mr. Murtha was passionate about the personalized health care services we offer at Windber Medical Center and the Joyce Murtha Breast Care Center, said Barbara Cliff, president and CEO of Windber Medical Center. He and his wife, Joyce, took an active interest in the Joyce Murtha Breast Care Center and have contributed not only financially to its success but also through their personal support. We will miss his vision and unyielding support for health care the way it should be.

To go point by point and list all of the contributions Mr. Murtha made to the cause of better health care could fill this entire publication. It would take at least that much ink to do justice to 36 years of remarkable public service.

But it is worth noting that when it came to health care, district borders weren’t restrictive to Mr. Murtha. While it seems the debate over national health care may rage on indefinitely, Mr. Murtha found ways to improve medical treatment for all. He took on a variety of cancers, brain injury and wellness in general, among other causes, and funded programs for organizations outside his district such as Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and UPMC.

Mr. Murtha, a throw-back bipartisan legislator, became a controversial figure late in his career as he was caught in the crosshairs of partisan politics. Regardless of political opinion, it must be noted that he fought every day for the 12th Congressional District as well as all Americans. Through his lofty position on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, he used his influence to provide not only a stronger military to keep us all safe from foreign threats; he also used it to provide better health care service to keep us safe from the threats we can’t see and that know no borders.

Source: Western PA Hospital News