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Area health system executives weigh in on COVID-19 and the future of care 

Gene Barr, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, moderated a panel featuring Philip Guarneschelli, president of UPMC in Central Pa.; John Herman, CEO of Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health; Steve Massini, CEO of Penn State Health; and Carrie Willetts, senior voice president of WellSpan Health during the 22nd Annual Health Care Forecast Breakfast.

Amid yet another rise in COVID-19 patient numbers in hospitals, the midstate’s hospital systems recognize that they will need to continue to reinvent everything from how they deliver care to the part they play in the supply chain. 

Executives from Penn State Health, WellSpan, UPMC in Central Pa. and Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health met this week to discuss the impacts of COVID-19 on their hospitals and staff and how their systems will continue to evolve in the coming years during the Central Penn Business Group on Health’s 22nd Annual Health Care Forecast Breakfast. 

The pandemic left several issues in its wake for area hospital systems including staffing issues and patients with high acuity illnesses from being unable to be seen during the pandemic. 

Today those problems have been exacerbated by a sharp increase in COVID-19 patients, most of whom are unvaccinated, said the hospital system leaders. 

“In our seven hospitals today, we have 226 COVID patients—15% to 16% of them are vaccinated,” said Philip Guarneschelli, president of UPMC in Central Pa. “The recent increase in COVID– we’ve seen it [drop] to almost zero and then back up to the hundreds. Along with that is your normal seasonal volume, which you start to see coming up on winter. Third, we believe there is a lot of volume coming from folks that delayed care.” 

Steve Massini, CEO of Penn State Health, asked employers to encourage their staff to get vaccines. 

“Our hospitals are busting at the seams and there are a lot of patients that don’t need to be there. It could be avoided,” said Massini, going on to note that if there was one positive from the pandemic, it was how systems stepped up to expand telemedicine to patients.  

“As an industry, it was almost embarrassing what we did with telehealth. There was no reimbursement,” he said. “We had not embraced it and today we are catching up to what everyone else has been doing in the country in other industries. We can’t let it go away.” 

To compound the issue of today’s overly filled hospitals, the Great Resignation is hitting systems hard, with many nurses either deciding to find a new career or retiring, said Guarneschelli. Many young nurses are also leaving their hospitals to become travel nurses, seeking higher pay, he added. 

That loss in talent means that systems will need to be more proactive, talking to students from an early age about the benefits of health care, something that wasn’t necessary in years prior. 

“We are typically not an industry that looks at creative ideas for employees. All of that is changing overnight,” said Guarneschelli. 

Despite the need for more staff today, hospital systems are on a path of being more asset light and technology and intellect heavy, said John Herman, CEO at Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health. 

Guarneschelli added that UPMC is doing this by consolidating its practices into larger sites so that patients can see multiple specialists at one location, something other area systems are also working towards. 

“We will be asset lighter, we won’t be closing assets, but we will be technology and intellect heavier,” said Herman. When asked if there is still opportunity in the region for consolidation, Herman added that systems still have opportunity to find further efficiencies in the coming years. 

“We are still on the curve of understanding and exploring ways that we can deliver care in a more efficient way,” he said. “My hypothesis is that we will continue to see the aggregation of health care organizations across the region and the nation.” 

The coming years will also see systems need to continuously think about value, something that was reflected in each of the system leaders during the roundtable. 

“We are reimagining health care not unlike other systems by trying to disrupt how we provide care and think differently but also leverage technology to improve access and leverage cost for our communities,” said Carrie Willetts, senior vice president of WellSpan Health and market president for WellSpan’s east region. “Our vision will see us partnering and reimagining how we create access points and value for our patients in new and different ways.” 

 

Ioannis Pashakis
Ioannis Pashakis is the Central Penn Business Journal's assistant editor. Email him at [email protected].

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