Conemaugh Health System Names 2021 Mercy Award Winners

May 26, 2021

Conemaugh Health System announced today that John Fresh, Heather Richards, Julie Russell, and Aaron Thomas have been recognized as 2021 Mercy Award winners. The Mercy Award recognizes one employee from each of LifePoint Health’s hospitals who profoundly touches the lives of others and best represents the spirit and values on which the company was founded. The Mercy Award is an annual recognition program established in 2002 to honor the life and contributions of Scott Mercy, LifePoint’s founding chairman and chief executive officer. The award is considered the highest honor a LifePoint employee can receive.

“At Conemaugh Health System, we share LifePoint’s commitment to making communities healthier, and we recognize this is supported by the good work and service of our employees on and off the job,” said William Caldwell, Market President, Conemaugh Health System. “We are extremely proud to recognize John, Heather, Julie, and Aaron for their efforts on behalf of our patients and our community. All four of these individuals go above and beyond each and every day to ensure that every person they encounter receives the highest level of care and compassion.”

John Fresh began his career at Conemaugh Miners Medical Center in 2005, working as a Maintenance Worker. Through hard work and dedication to Conemaugh Miners and its patients, the Northern Cambria native was able to advance in his role and grow into an exemplary leader within the facility. In 2020, he became the Manager of Plant Operations and Information Technology. John also serves as a carpentry teacher at Clearfield County Vo Tech School and is an active parishioner and volunteer at Prince of Peace Church.
“Through all of the challenges presented over the past year, John continued to live our mission to keep our patients, colleagues, and communities healthy by implementing new protocols, helping his teammates across every department, and proactively addressing concerns. We are so grateful for his contributions to our hospital and to our community,” said Tim Harclerode, CEO, Conemaugh Miners Medical Center.

Heather Richards is a 29-year employee of Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center. Heather began her career working in the Operating Room, then worked as a recruiter for Conemaugh’s School of Nursing. For the past five years, she has served as manager of Employee Health. As a Registered Nurse, Heather has been instrumental in getting the COVID-19 vaccine distributed to not only employees but to the community at large, working non-stop days, nights, and weekends to get community members vaccinated. She was previously recognized for her outstanding recruiting efforts and for creating a strong support system for students when she worked in the School of Nursing. Heather is active on the boards of Alleghenies Unlimited Care Providers and Conemaugh Valley School District.
“Heather is an exemplary leader within our hospital. Her positive spirit and enthusiasm are a source of inspiration to many of her colleagues and peers,” said Caldwell, who also serves as CEO of Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center. “As we get closer to resuming our pre-pandemic lives, we are all so grateful to Heather for her leadership in coordinating vaccination efforts within our community.”

Julie Russell has been employed at Conemaugh Nason Medical Center for 14 years. She started her career as a Clinical Supervisor and has grown to become the Director of Quality and Infection Prevention. She has demonstrated tremendous leadership ability during the pandemic by guiding the hospital’s Risk Mitigation Plan with policies, procedures, and processes, while all aligning with constantly changing guidelines. Julie continued her focus on combating COVID-19 by working with hospital leadership to devise two large local community vaccine events reaching over 1,000 community members. Her commitment to quality patient care and process improvement played a major role in Conemaugh Nason’s Quality Designation recognition, obtained in November of 2020. Julie is also actively involved in the hospital’s Patient and Family Advisory Committee (PFAC).
“Julie is an integral part of our team at Conemaugh Nason, where her contributions over the past year have allowed us to safely and efficiently manage our response to the pandemic,” said Harclerode, who also serves as CEO of Conemaugh Nason Medical Center. “Each and every day, Julie demonstrates her ongoing commitment to our mission and her dedication to our patients in ways that inspire our entire organization.”

Aaron Thomas began his career at Conemaugh Meyersdale Medical Center in 1992, where he has worked for the past 29 years. As Manager of Information Services, Thomas supports the hospital’s information technology needs, while also managing marketing, communications, and community relations. Although not assigned clinical duties, he has volunteered his time throughout the pandemic to screen patients, even on hard-to-schedule weekend evening shifts. Aaron regularly helps the Emergency Department nurses with COVID-19 testing. Recently, he organized a fundraiser for a colleague’s sister, who was diagnosed with cancer. Aaron is active in his community and a member of the Lion’s Club and president of Meyersdale Merchant Association.
“From greeting patients and visitors at the hospital to providing behind-the-scenes support that might often go unnoticed, Aaron wears many hats at Conemaugh Meyersdale and has a wide array of responsibilities throughout our facility,” said Heather Smith, CEO, Conemaugh Meyersdale Medical Center. “Aaron’s commitment to our hospital is reflected in all that he does, especially during this unprecedented year. He is an invaluable member of our team and we are grateful for his dedicated service to our organization and to our Meyersdale community.

Each hospital winner, including John, Heather, Julie, and Aaron, will be considered for LifePoint’s 2021 companywide Mercy Award. The companywide winner will be announced this summer and honored during a ceremony in Nashville, Tenn., in August, which all hospital winners are invited to attend.