Penn State Health aims for bigger campus, wider reach

Penn State Health is positioning itself for growth as competition intensifies in Central Pennsylvania health care.

The Derry Township-based academic medical center is focused on improving quality of care, expanding services and forming partnerships that will improve patient access.

It’s “a good time in the history of Penn State Health,” CEO Dr. A Craig Hillemeier said Thursday.

The health system is planning several construction projects on its campus in Dauphin County that would increase its size by about 15 percent, and it is expanding its reach across the midstate so that there are more “access points” for patients, Hillemeier said.

All of these moves are, in part, in response to the consolidation sweeping through the health care industry.

Although Hillemeier didn’t mention specific consolidations, Penn State Health is surrounded by combined health systems, such as Lancaster General Health/Penn Medicine in Lancaster County, and the anticipated partnership between and University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and PinnacleHealth System in Dauphin County.

The consolidation trend “created a situation where we’re concerned people won’t be able to access us as much as they like,” Hillemeier said.

Increasing patient access

Penn State Health announced last week it will acquire a large physician group in neighboring Lancaster County, Physicians’ Alliance Ltd., which will give patients the option to come to a local academic medical center.

The acquisition of the East Hempfield Township-based physicians group means that Penn State Health will absorb the alliance’s 120 physicians and staff who work across 13 locations in Lancaster, Dauphin and York counties.

Physicians’ Alliance cares for about 100,000 patients. The exact date that Physicians’ Alliance will join Penn State Health is still being determined, but the organizations are predicting it will happen this fall.

Increasing patient access also means making more room on campus.

The Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center has been struggling with occupancy issues. The hospital is operating up near 90 percent occupancy for inpatient admissions, but hospitals operate best at occupancy rates in the low 80s, Hillemeier said.

The medical center’s emergency department, meanwhile, sees about 75,000 visits per year, and that number is projected to grow because of the way people are choosing to receive their care, Hillemeier said.

Construction plans include expanding the emergency department and adding on to the facility’s Penn State Children’s Hospital.

The emergency department expansion will add 20 new patient care spaces and an additional 10,000 square feet. The emergency department is currently 34,000 square feet.

The addition to the children’s hospital will allow the medical center to move some services from the adult hospital, therefore creating more beds for adult inpatient admissions.

It plans to add three floors to the five-story children’s hospital, and transfer components such as women’s services and neonatal intensive care there.

The former neonatal intensive care unit in the main hospital would then have to be renovated, making room for about 100 additional beds, Hillemeier said.

Both projects still need final board OKs. Approval for the emergency department expansion is expected this fall, while approval of the children’s hospital addition is expected in mid-2018.

There are no cost estimates on the projects at this time, according to spokesman Scott Gilbert.

Lenay Ruhl

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