Adagio Health Celebrates Fifty Years of Changing Lives

March 31, 2021 by Adagio Health
A little over fifty years ago, as studies showed that many American women were having more children than they wanted to—the federal government sought to expand access to contraceptives with the understanding that doing so could help to alleviate poverty and would also improve the health of women and children. With strong bipartisan support, the federally-funded program known as Title X was established in 1970. It was the only federally-funded program focused solely on family planning, and was meant to fulfill a promise made by then-President Richard Nixon that “no American woman should be denied access to family planning assistance because of her economic condition.”

On April 5, 1971, Adagio Health was established in western Pennsylvania. Known then as “Family Planning Services”, it was a much smaller organization than it is today, with a very narrow focus.

“I started with Adagio Health in 1976,” says long-time Adagio Health Uniontown office manager, Lugene Rossini. “I had just graduated from Medical Assistants school, and I had an interest in women’s health, so it was perfect.”

Rossini saw the impact on patients right away. “Women could now choose when to have children. Just a few years earlier, they’d had no say in their reproductive lives.”

Over the last 45 years, Rossini has had a front row seat as the organization has expanded. In 1979, Adagio Health began administering the WIC program in parts of western Pennsylvania-- managing benefits and supplemental nutrition for women, infants, and children. In the years that followed, the menu of services continued to grow, with more comprehensive gynecological care for women, prenatal care, care for men, and additional medical services including vaccines, cancer screening, HIV testing and prevention, tobacco cessation, and comprehensive education services for teens and young adults.

“We are making a huge difference in people’s lives,” says Rossini.

Adagio Health Seneca office manager Kathy Smerkar joined the organization in 1990, a time when she says the impacts of teen pregnancy were devastating to many teenagers and families.

“There was a greater need for confidentiality for teens at that time, and we didn’t take commercial insurances in the offices. Patients were either eligible for free services or a discounted rate. Birth control pills were also much more expensive at pharmacies.”

Today, Smerkar sees more acceptance in the community. “There is more family involvement and very few of our younger patients request confidentiality because at least one parent is usually aware of the patient coming to our office.”

Receptionist and executive assistant Beth Pardoe joined Adagio Health in 1986. She appreciates the camaraderie she’s found over the years. “I have met so many amazing friends and colleagues along the way. Definitely a family like no other.”

Pardoe has also watched the organization grow. “Acquiring funding in the late 80’s early 90’s for cancer screening, teen pregnancy prevention and HIV/AIDs awareness, in addition to overcoming political roadblocks has taken this agency to a new level. I am proud to be part of an organization that continues to grow and find the resources needed to meet the needs of the ever-changing community.”

Adagio Health president and CEO BJ Leber has been with the organization since 2014. When she started, Adagio Health was deeply in debt, and in danger of closing its doors. Six years later, there has been a complete organizational restructuring and financial turnaround. Adagio Health is now on solid footing and planning for a dynamic future.

The operational footprint has also expanded—with Adagio Health now managing family planning partner networks in seven counties in West Virginia, and five counties in southern New York. Adagio Health also manages the state-funded Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program in 62 counties across Pennsylvania, while continuing to operate medical offices, a mobile medical unit, WIC offices, and Power Up SNAP Education offices throughout western Pennsylvania. All told, Adagio Health serves approximately 110,000 patients and clients annually.

“We have a phenomenal team in place,” says Leber. “From our clinical operations, to cancer screening, tobacco control and prevention, food insecurity benefits and immediate access to food for those who need it, educational services for teens, and the addition of behavioral health services—we are continually challenging ourselves to make sure the services we offer are aligned with the needs of the communities we serve. Especially right now, as we all continue to grapple with the extraordinary impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

It was the onset of the pandemic that prompted the organization to roll-out telehealth services in early April 2020. Initially conducting visits by phone, the staff quickly implemented the software and training needed to start offering video visits as well.

“What had been planned as a one to two-year roll-out of telehealth services suddenly became a two-week roll-out!” says Leber. “And it just never would have happened if we didn’t have the right team in place.”

New safety protocols have also allowed in-person visits to continue at medical and WIC offices as well.

And with COVID-19 vaccines becoming more widely available, Adagio Health is taking steps to add those services to the menu by late April 2021—a move that should prove particularly helpful in the largely rural communities where Adagio Health’s medical offices are located, and where its mobile health unit travels.

The nutrition services team at Adagio Health has also been in overdrive during the pandemic, working to meet the increased need for WIC services and benefits, as well as overseeing food insecurity relief efforts that have included the distribution of food to more than 18,000 local families since March 2020.

As the organization looks beyond its 50th anniversary, Leber is looking forward to the establishment of the Adagio Health Innovation Fund—an effort that will ensure Adagio Health can continue to develop new projects, services, and initiatives focused on increasing access to care, addressing racial and socio-economic health disparities, and generating additional streams of revenue for the organization.

“We plan to expand our medical and behavioral health services, along with expanding our programs around food insecurity, women veterans, the LGBTQIA+ community, and health education for women in recovery. We’re also planning on offering Medication Assisted Treatment for patients who screen positive for Substance Use Disorder; PEP or post-exposure prophylaxis for HIV; and expanded maternal care for vulnerable populations,” says Leber. “The need continues to be great. That’s an unfortunate reality right now. But with our Board’s leadership, support from our funders and local Foundations, support from the community and the patients and clients we are privileged to serve--we are very glad Adagio Health is here to serve as a safety net, now, and for another fifty years if that’s what it takes.”

Wendy OBrien, Senior Vice President, Regional Sales Manager at PNC Investments became Chair of Adagio Health’s Board in October 2020. “As a Board member and now Board Chair, I have seen Adagio Health achieve a pretty remarkable financial turnaround over the past few years. As a financial professional, I can tell you that doesn’t just happen, it requires commitment, strategy, and leadership. I am proud to serve on the Board, and to be part of an organization that is truly changing lives for the better in this region.”

Adagio Health’s long-time employees are optimistic about the future.

“If we continue to be the leaders in our field and reach out to the most vulnerable and those in need, we will continue to have a positive impact,” says Smerkar.

“As a seasoned employee, I feel that the current administration and staff have taken this organization to a new level,” says Pardoe. “Employees are very dedicated and adapt to the changing needs in the community. Times and needs change every year and Adagio Health is always one step ahead.”