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Cole Zajdel, 8,rides an innertube down a hill near his house on Keystone Park road in Derry Township. Cole, his twin brother Kyle and their sister Breannah, 15, were out enjoying the results of the snow storm that blanketed the region Wednesday and Thursday. Breannah attends Derry Area High School and her brothers go to Grandview Elementary. They are the children of Stan and Nicole Zajdel.

St. Vincent College to hold virtual December commencement

St. Vincent College will award 118 bachelor’s and master’s degrees to its December graduates, while also recognizing all of its May 2020 graduates, during a special virtual December commencement ceremony at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 19.

Recorded in the historic St. Vincent Archabbey Basilica, the event will be available for viewing on the St. Vincent College website, www.stvincent.edu, and the college’s YouTube channel, www.youtube.com/St.VincentCollege.

“The commitment of all of our 2020 graduates to completing their degrees amid such extraordinary and challenging circumstances is inspiring,” St. Vincent College president Father Paul R. Taylor, O.S.B. said. “We certainly wish that we would be able to gather together in person to celebrate this milestone, but we hope that this virtual December commencement will be a special experience for our graduates, their loved ones and our entire Bearcat community.”

Presided over by Dr. John Smetanka, vice president for academic affairs and academic dean, the virtual ceremony will include all elements of a traditional, in-person St. Vincent College commencement, including invocation, conferral of an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters, principal speaker, individual recognition of graduates, remarks from the senior class president and the singing of the St. Vincent College Alma Mater.

Jeri Eckhart Queenan, senior partner at The Bridgespan Group and formerly the U.S. associate deputy secretary of labor, chair and CEO of the White House Fellows Commission and member of the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships, will be awarded an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters and deliver the principal commencement address.

Queenan has held leadership positions in the private, public, nonprofit and faith sectors, tackling society’s most pressing problems. At Bridgespan, which collaborates with mission-driven leaders, organizations and philanthropists to break cycles of poverty and injustice, Queenan leads a number of large, complex initiatives.

She launched and led Bridgespan’s global practice for its first decade, traveling to 50 countries on six continents, laying the groundwork for Bridgespan to become the global organization it is today. She spearheaded Bridgespan’s multi-year initiative to end “the nonprofit starvation cycle,” culminating in a 2019 announcement of bold policy change by five foundation presidents. Her clients include the precedent-setting Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Women, an initiative that has achieved strong results by empowering underserved women entrepreneurs; the Ford Foundation’s BUILD program, a $1 billion investment in the long-term capacity of social justice organizations around the world; and MacArthur Foundation’s Lever of Change, which unlocks philanthropic capital for social good. She led similar high-impact engagements with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, CIFF, UN Foundation, Salvation Army, Camfed, Global Teen Challenge and Catholic Charities D.C.

Queenan has published numerous articles on nonprofit strategy and scale, board governance, building strong organizations, women’s entrepreneurship and performance measurement in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Chronicle of Philanthropy and other journals. She has been an invited speaker at the InterAction Forum, Global Philanthropy Forum, Vatican Impact Investing Conference, MacDonald Conference for Leaders of Character at West Point and other venues.

Prior to Bridgespan Queenan served as a senior official in the Executive Branch of the federal government, first as White House Fellow and then Associate Deputy Secretary of Labor, overseeing line agencies with a combined annual budget of $28 billion and leading Cabinet-level working groups on pension reform, steel industry restructuring and child care policy. Later, she served as chair and CEO of the White House Fellows Foundation in Washington, D.C., leading a successful fundraising campaign that put the program on solid footing. She was a member of the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships for five years.

Queenan is deeply involved in revitalization of the Catholic Church, the largest provider of social services in the world with 1.2 billion members. She serves on the board of Leadership Roundtable, a network of leaders committed to excellence in Catholic Church leadership and management. From 2014-2020, she served on the board of Catholic Relief Services, the $1 billion humanitarian and relief arm of the Catholic Church. She chaired the board’s response to the recent Church crises and scandal and served on the Audit, Finance, Governance, CEO Search, CEO Evaluation and Strategic Planning Committees. She spoke at the Vatican Impact Investing Conferences in 2014, 2016 and 2018 and attended the Summer Theological Institute at Boston College in 2012 and 2014. Shehas been a lector for 30 years, an RCIA sponsor and catechist.

She is past director of other nonprofit organizations and corporations including National Organization on Disabilities, MicroEnsure, The BOMA Project, The Langley School and Reliance Insurance.

Queenan graduated Phi Beta Kappa/summa cum laude from UCLA and began her career as a securities analyst at Trust Company of the West. After receiving her MBA with honors from Harvard Business School, she joined the Boston Consulting Group where she advised multinational corporations in health care and telecommunications.

She and her husband, Charlie Queenan, have been married for 37 years and are the proud parents of four adult children — Mike, Max, C.J. and Jenna.

During the virtual conferral of degrees at St. Vincent, each May and December bachelor’s and master’s degree recipient will be recognized by the deans of their respective schools — Dr. Gary Quinlivan, dean of the Alex G. McKenna School of Business, Economics and Government; Dr. Stephen Jodis, dean of the Herbert W. Boyer School of Natural Sciences, Mathematics and Computing; and Dr. Margaret Watkins, dean of the School of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. Watkins will also recognize the 2020 graduates of the Bearcat B.E.S.T. (Building Excellence through Skills Training) program, which aims to develop independent living for young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The ceremony will be held virtually due to the restrictions surrounding the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. By adhering to health and safety guidelines developed by its Forward Together Advisory Committee, with guidance from the Pennsylvania Department of Education, St. Vincent College completed its Fall 2020 semester on Dec. 11. Courses were delivered in a “hy-flex” model — a combination of in-person and virtual instruction — while modified dining, residence hall and gathering policies were enacted.

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Kulick appointed as sixth Bishop of the Diocese of Greensburg

The New Alexandria priest who has been handling the day-to-day administrative activities for the Diocese of Greensburg as it awaited the appointment of a new bishop won’t see his duties diminished now that the official appointment has been made.

The Rev. Monsignor Larry J. Kulick, JCL, has been appointed by The Holy Father, Pope Francis as the sixth Bishop of the Diocese of Greensburg, the diocese announced early Friday after receiving official word from the Vatican.

“I would like to express my gratitude to the Holy Father for his confidence and trust in appointing me as Bishop of the Diocese of Greensburg. Western Pennsylvania has always been my home. I feel honored to be able to serve as Bishop in the Diocese where I was born, raised, educated, ordained and have served my entire life,” Kulick said.

The ordination and installation of Bishop-elect Kulick is scheduled for Feb. 11, 2021, with details still being finalized, according to the diocese.

Kulick, who is also the pastor of St. James Parish in New Alexandria and who served as vicar general of the diocese, was elected administrator of the Diocese of Greensburg by the College of Consultors Sept. 15, one day after Bishop Edward C. Malesic was installed as the 12th bishop of the Diocese of Cleveland. Kulick is a native of Leechburg, where he was a parishioner of the former St. Martha Parish. He holds a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from St. Vincent College, and a master’s degree in systematic theology and a master of divinity degree from St. Vincent Seminary.

He was ordained to the priesthood May 16, 1992, by Bishop Anthony G. Bosco at Blessed Sacrament Cathedral in Greensburg.

Kulick earned a licentiate in canon law from The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., in 2012.

He was appointed vicar general and moderator of the curia in 2012 by Bishop Lawrence E. Brandt and reappointed vicar general in 2015 by Bishop Malesic.

Kulick received the title of monsignor by virtue of his office as vicar general of the diocese on May 21, 2014.

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Commissioners approve 2021 budget with no tax increase

The Westmoreland County Commissioners on Thursday unanimously approved a 2021 budget that holds the line on taxes thanks in part to federal coronavirus (COVID-19) relief funding, savings from employee furloughs early in the pandemic and a plan to take advantage of low interest rates to borrow funds now to cover the county’s pension liability for future years.

The $339,739,067 spending plan keeps property tax rates steady at 21.149 mills a year after the previous board of commissioners issued the county’s first tax increase in 15 years. With the millage rate at 21.49, the average taxpayer pays $440.94 per year in real estate taxes, according to the 2021 budget document. Each mill of taxes generates roughly $4 million in revenue for the county.

“Our goal this year was obviously with unemployment being so high and people being sick with COVID is making sure we did not have a tax increase in 2020,” Commissioners chairman Sean Kertes said.

“We’re just trying to alleviate the burden off of the taxpayer as much as possible, and that’s what we accomplished as a core group here.”

“This budget demonstrates the Commissioners’ ongoing efforts to increase efficiencies and reduce costs for the citizens of Westmoreland County responsibly,” county director of financial administration Meghan McCandless wrote in the budget document. “The 2021 adopted budget is a balanced budget with the use of some fund balance reserves.”

The adopted budget offset a $5.8 million shortfall between projected revenues and expenses by using the county’s unassigned fund balance, leaving roughly $8 million remaining in the unassigned fund balance at year end 2021 according to the budget document, available in its entirety on the county’s website, www.co.westmoreland.pa.us.

In the initial budget proposal, McCandless, indicated the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic caused major variations in the 2020 budget’s year-end figures compared to the original spending plan, and the uncertainty of the pandemic continued to pose a challenge in crafting the 2021 budget.

The county was able to use federal coronavirus relief funding to offset around $9 million in pandemic-related personnel costs that would normally come from the general fund, the commissioners said. Employee furloughs in April reduced the county’s expenses by about $2 million, according to McCandless.

By borrowing around $140 million through a pension obligation bond to cover future government payments to the county’s pension fund, the county is projected to save roughly $3.5 million in 2021, according to the adopted budget document. The county paid $12.7 million into the pension fund in 2020, with a payment of $14.4 million projected for 2021.

“In any other year, I probably would not have been in favor of this because it’s just pushing it down the road to future years,” Commissioner Gina Cerilli said of the bond. “However, (with) the challenges of 2020 for our constituents, we had to do everything possible to not have a tax increase.”

The commissioners on Thursday also awarded more than $618,548.34 through the Westmoreland CARES Nonprofit Support Grant to 64 county-based agencies. Grant recipients could be awarded a maximum of $25,000 through the program, and federal restrictions limited eligible organizations.

The county had awarded around $1.2 million to nonprofits in the first round of Westmoreland CARES Nonprofit Support Grant funding, and had allocated $1 million for the second round of awards that were approved Thursday.

Kertes said all eligible nonprofits that applied for funds were awarded grants.

The commissioners earlier this month awarded nearly $2 million to 130 small businesses through the Westmoreland CARES Small Business Support Grant program.

Through the Westmoreland CARES grant programs, nonprofit organizations and small businesses with less than 100 employees were eligible to apply for grant awards of up to $25,000, or 25% of calculated losses due to COVID-19, whichever is less.

Under both programs, nonprofits and small businesses must be headquartered in Westmoreland County to qualify.

Small businesses that were funded in the first round of Westmoreland CARES awards were eligible to re-apply, but their combined grant awards from both rounds of grant funding were capped at $25,000.

The commissioners held extra meetings this month to make sure the county’s pool of $31.5 million in federal coronavirus (COVID-19) relief grant money is completely distributed before the Dec. 31 deadline for using the funds.

During the first round of Westmoreland CARES grants for small businesses and nonprofits in September and October, the commissioners approved distributing roughly $5 million to 260 small businesses and $1.2 million to 77 nonprofits.

In November, the commissioners awarded nearly $810,000 through the Westmoreland CARES Municipal Support Grant Program, with awards capped at $30,000.

The commissioners have also scheduled a meeting for 10 a.m. on Dec. 22 to award grant funding to local volunteer fire departments and emergency medical services providers, with a tight window for applications.

“We are under a tight timeline,” Cerilli said Thursday. “They will be getting an application today and will have 48 hours to complete it and get it back to us so we can approve it next week.”

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Excela to begin administering COVID-19 vaccine to employees today

Excela Health is ready to roll out its first doses of Pfizer’s coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine today, Dec. 18, as virus case totals in Westmoreland County continue to mount.

Westmoreland County surpassed 15,000 coronavirus (COVID-19) cases on Wednesday, and on Thursday added another 397 new cases, according to state data on the county’s website.

Excela Chief Medical Officer Dr. Carol Fox said the health system will begin administering its initial supply of nearly 3,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine today to front-line employees.

“We believe that the vaccine will offer us a greater ability to maintain a healthy workforce to provide care for patients,” Fox said. “As more people in the general public receive the vaccine, it will enhance community protection and ultimately, it will allow us to start to move toward a return to more normalcy.”

The health system prepared for the rollout of the vaccine by surveying staff to determine the level of interest in receiving the new immunization, which must be stored in ultra-low temperature freezers or kept in special containers with dry ice, Fox said.

Around 70% of Excela employees queried about the vaccine indicated they were interested in being immunized, according to Fox. The health system is staggering vaccinations among employees from the same departments to help maintain steady staffing levels.

“Based on that information, we began devising a schedule that will spread out individuals from the same department. Some individuals will experience very minimal reactions whereas others will have body aches and fevers which are also symptoms of COVID,” she said. “When someone has fevers and myalgias, they will need to remain off of work until they resolve. If the symptoms do not resolve, we would need to assess for other causes such as COVID.”

Fox added it’s important to note the vaccine does not cause its recipients to become infected with COVID-19, as it is not a live or attenuated virus.

For the early days of immunizations, Excela is focusing on vaccinating front-line clinical staff, Fox said.

More than 1,200 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine had already been administered to health care workers at 16 Pennsylvania hospitals, Pennsylvania Department of Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said Thursday, while dozens of other hospitals across the state are waiting to receive more than 96,000 doses by the end of the week.

No adverse health effects have been reported in the state among those who have gotten the shot so far, Levine said at a news briefing.

“Things are moving smoothly in Pennsylvania,” she said.

Levine said this week’s snowstorm did not hold up delivery of the state’s initial allotment of 97,500 doses to 87 hospitals, adding the delivery schedule was set by Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s vaccine development program.

The state anticipates weekly shipments of the new Pfizer vaccine and a second vaccine from Moderna that is expected to win government approval. But Levine said the state doesn’t know how many doses it should expect from week to week.

“We really don’t know how much we’re going to get. We get these estimates and then they change them a couple days later. It really depends upon the production and manufacturing schedule,” she said.

Vaccinations of residents and staff at nursing homes are expected to begin Dec. 28, she said.

There have been 15,545 coronavirus cases reported in Westmoreland County since March, according to the county website.

That figure includes 11,917 confirmed cases and 3,628 probable cases as of Thursday’s update to the state data.

There have been 69,539 negative tests in Westmoreland County.

Westmoreland County has already had more new coronavirus cases in December than it did in the entire month of November.

As of Thursday’s update to coronavirus case figures on the county website, there had been 6,284 new cases since the start of the December.

There were 4,954 new cases reported in the county throughout the month of November, which more than doubled the total cases that had been reported through the first eight months of the pandemic. The county recorded 2,130 new cases in October, according to data on the county website.

The county on Thursday also saw its COVID-19 death total increase by nine, according to state data on the county website. With the new deaths reported Wednesday, the county’s coronavirus death total now sits at 326. The Pennsylvania Department of Health continuously adjusts death counts for prior dates as new data is received, meaning the coronavirus deaths reported Wednesday didn’t necessarily occur on the same day.

The first coronavirus deaths for Westmoreland County were reported April 5, according to the state health department.

The Westmoreland County Coroner’s Office on Tuesday increased its listed total of coronavirus deaths for the first time since Dec. 2. With the update, the total climbed from 193 to 242. On Wednesday, that total was updated to 251. Of those deaths, 244 were confirmed by testing and another seven are presumed cases based on symptoms. The youngest person to die of COVID-19 in Westmoreland County was 36, according to the coroner’s office, and the oldest 109. The coroner’s COVID-19 death total includes any individual whose death occurred in Westmoreland County, regardless of their county of residence.

Statewide, total coronavirus cases had reached 529,335 as of Thursday’s update. That figure includes 481,810 confirmed cases in the state and 47,525 probable cases. Throughout Pennsylvania, 13,392 people have died of coronavirus, according to the state health department.

Of the state’s coronavirus deaths, 7,871 are associated with long term care facilities, which have been virus hotspots throughout the pandemic.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, there have been 45,858 coronavirus cases among residents and 8,411 cases among staff members at 1,418 long term care facilities throughout the state.

In Westmoreland County, according to the state health department, 45 long term care facilities have accounted for 1,489 positive COVID-19 cases among residents, 168 cases among staff members and 156 coronavirus deaths as of Thurssday’s update.

Hospitalizations for COVID-19 patients actually declined statewide in Thursday’s update.

Statewide, there were 6,209 coronavirus patients hospitalized as of Thursday’s update — down from 6,346 Wednesday, according to the state health department. Of those patients, 1,246 were in adult intensive care units Thursday and 745 were on ventilators.

In Westmoreland County, as of Thursday’s update there were 167 patients hospitalized for COVID-19 — up from 166 Wednesday — with 24 in adult intensive care units and 21 on ventilators according to the state health department. Of the 99 ventilators available in Westmoreland County, according to state data, a total of 29 were in use by COVID and non-COVID patients as of Tuesday’s update.

According to state figures last updated at noon Thursday, there were 22 adult ICU beds available at Westmoreland County hospitals — 24.4% of total adult ICU beds — 50 medical/surgical beds and 88 airborne isolation beds.

The state years ago established seven regional Health Care Coalitions, or HCCs, as part of its emergency preparedness plan. Westmoreland County is part of the HCC of Southwest PA, or the Southwest region, which also includes Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Cambria, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Lawrence, Mercer, Somerset and Washington counties.

The Southwest region had 1,543 patients hospitalized for COVID-19 as of Thursday’s update. Of those patients, 331 were on adult intensive care units and 200 were on ventilators. Overall, 499 of the region’s 1,244 available ventilators were in use as of the update.

Citing concerns an influx of COVID-19 hospitalizations could stretch health systems thin on staff, Pennsylvania Department of Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine on Nov. 23 issued an order directing hospitals to reduce “elective procedures” by half if their region meets at least two of the following criteria:

  • 33% or more of hospitals in the region anticipate staffing shortages in the next week;
  • 50% or more increase in the moving average of COVID-19 admissions in the previous 48 hours;
  • 10% or fewer of the medical and surgical beds in a region are projected to be available in the next 72 hours.

The Southwest region is currently the only HCC in the state that meets the anticipated staffing shortage criteria.

As of Thursday’s update, 35.1% of hospitals in the Southwest region anticipated staffing shortages.

According to the state’s COVID-19 Reduction of Elective Procedures Dashboard, the Southwest region had experienced a 2.8% decrease in coronavirus hospitalizations over the most recent 48-hour period prior to the site’s update on Thursday and 46.8% of medical and surgical beds in the region were projected to be available for patient care in the next 72 hours.

LV Association of Churches lists Christmas Eve services

With the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic limiting gatherings during this Christmas season, the Ligonier Valley Association of Churches has provided the following listing of Christmas Eve candlelight services on Dec. 24. Those attending services should remember to wear a mask and continue to social distance.

Covenant Presbyterian Church will be hosting an outdoor service at Ligonier Camp and Conference Center under the pavilion at 4:30 p.m. and an indoor service at the church, 200 N. Market St. in Ligonier, at 7p.m. by reservation only. Call the church office at 724-238-3657 to register to attend.

Epiphany Anglican Fellowship’s Christmas Eve service is weather dependent. Further information and updates are available on the church’s Facebook page at facebook.com/EpiphanyLigonier.

Fort Palmer Presbyterian Church will be having a traditional Christmas Eve service at 7:00 p.m. The service will be broadcast live on their own radio station, 94.7 FM, for those who wish to remain in their vehicles in the parking lot. The church is located at 4627 Route 711, Bolivar.

Heritage United Methodist Church on the Diamond in Ligonier will be having indoor Christmas Eve Services at 4, 6 and 8 p.m.

Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church, 342 West Main St. in Ligonier, will be having Mass at 4, 6:30 and 10 p.m. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day Mass at 8 and 10 a.m.

Rector Methodist Church, 628 Weaver Mill Road, will be having its service at 9 p.m.

St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church, 300 West Main St. in Ligonier, will be having an outdoor Christmas Eve service at 5 p.m. around the manger scene in the church’s side yard.

Trinity United Methodist Church in Stahlstown will be having Christmas Eve services at noon and at 3, 5 and 7 p.m.

Waterford Methodist Church, 352 Fire Hall Road, will be having its service at 7 p.m.

Bethlen Home and Ligonier Gardens will offer online services on their closed circuit television systems for their staff and residents.