Pandemic puts Lancaster’s changing health care scene on hold

Thomas A. Barstow, Contributing Writer//April 23, 2020

Pandemic puts Lancaster’s changing health care scene on hold

Thomas A. Barstow, Contributing Writer//April 23, 2020

More than a year has passed since UPMC Pinnacle announced it would close its hospital in the city of Lancaster, and plans to turn the complex into a mixed-use development have now slowed because of the coronavirus.

Meanwhile, UPMC Pinnacle and other healthcare providers have been expanding services or planning new facilities, although some of those larger projects are now on hold while the pandemic unfolds, observers said.

“It is not realistic that it will remain a hospital, so there is a realization that it is not going to stay a hospital,” said Marshall Snively, president of the Lancaster City Alliance, a nonprofit that promotes growth and stability in the city. “But we are working to ensure what does replace it would continue to be a benefit to the city and the neighborhood.”

It took time for some neighbors to come around to what will be a new normal for the neighborhood, Snively said. The idea of getting the building on the city tax rolls — as a mixed-use development that would include commercial operations, residential units and perhaps some sort of healthcare agency — would meet that goal, he added.

Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health is looking into a number of expansions for Lancaster General Health. PHOTO/FILES –

Plans had been moving along, with city officials discussing possible options with UPMC Pinnacle. Then the coronavirus crisis swept the country, creating higher priorities for health systems, said Jess King, chief of staff for the city.

“Long and short of it is that I believe most plans are on pause for the hospital, as the petitioner (UPMC) has public health priorities at the moment,” King said in an email. “Prior to the pandemic, we were waiting to hear from them, as they were looking at several offers on their building and weighing those offers. With the economic impact of the pandemic, I do not know what may have changed with those offers.”

A spokesperson for UMPC Pinnacle said the organization has submitted a request to rezone the property — which was once known as Lancaster Regional Medical Center — to mixed use, so that any future development will be consistent with the surrounding area and the goals of the city overall.

“UPMC Pinnacle continues to work with potential buyers,” said Kelly T. McCall, public relations director for UPMC Pinnacle in Harrisburg. “The current zoning for the property is very restrictive and would not permit development of the property in a manner consistent with surrounding neighborhoods.”

Since the closing, McCall said, UPMC Pinnacle has made improvements to its other services in Lancaster County.

“We have combined a rich, 125-year-old tradition of caring for our community with a modern facility in Lititz,” she said in an email. “In doing so, we are ensuring the continued availability of high-quality clinical care for generations to come. … In addition, we have hired many new providers and new employees to accommodate our increasing patient volumes.”

In the meantime, other health organizations have been updating their services in Lancaster County, including Penn State Health, which announced plans last year for a new acute-care hospital near PA-283 in East Hempfield Township just north of the city. Scott Gilbert, a spokesperson for Penn State Health in Hershey, noted that the board of directors approved a groundbreaking on the project in February. However, construction will be delayed because of the virus.

When it does open, the new hospital will be on about 30 acres near State Road and Harrisburg Pike and will have 129 beds in the five-story facility, Penn State Health has reported.

Before the crisis, several observers noted, one concern was whether there would be enough healthcare workers to staff the new hospital because of the severe labor shortage, especially in the healthcare industry. Pinnacle workers who lost jobs after the city hospital closed likely had little difficulty finding new positions, either with other UPMC Pinnacle facilities or at other companies, said Tom Baldrige, president of the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

He and others said they were confident new healthcare services would find the staffing they need, because several agencies and schools in Lancaster County continually working to train healthcare workers. The various efforts to boost healthcare options will help fill any voids in care left by the closing of the hospital, Baldrige also said.

“All of that allows people to find the available healthcare that they need,” he said.

For example, Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health has plans to expand its operations in Lancaster County, including at Lancaster General Hospital on Duke Street. However, those efforts have been delayed, as well.

“At this time, LG Health construction and expansion projects have been placed on hold to focus on COVID-19 efforts,” said Mary Ann Eckard, public relations manager with Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health.

To further combat the virus, Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health and UPMC Pinnacle teamed up in early April to create an outpatient specimen collection site at 650 N. Prince Street in the city.

“By locating this collection site outside of Clipper Magazine Stadium, we are able to serve the needs of Lancaster city and the surrounding community in an easily accessible and safe environment,” Brooks Turkel, president of Lancaster Region, UPMC, said in a statement.