Penn State Health takes advantage of its two Cumberland County hospitals 

Penn State Health Holy Spirit Medical Center and Penn State Health Hampden Medical Center on its opening day last October. PHOTO/PROVIDED

In 2019, Penn State Health announced that it had signed a letter of intent with Danville-based Geisinger Health to purchase Geisinger Holy Spirit in East Pennsboro Township. 

Purchasing the hospital provided an interesting opportunity for the Hershey-based medical system, which had announced in 2018 that it would be building its Hampden Medical Center just five miles away from Holy Spirit. 

Penn State Health opened Hampden last October. The center features 110 private inpatient beds, an emergency department, physician offices and more. The facility cost the health system over $350 million to build. 

When Hampden opened, the newly named Penn State Health Holy Spirit Medical Center had already operated under Penn State Health for nearly a year. 

The proximity of the two medical centers has made the system adopt a “two-hospital strategy” to ensure that it is utilizing the specialties of each hospital to its fullest. 

“When the opportunity came for us to bring Holy Spirit into our family at Penn State Health, we took a pause and said let’s inventory what our plan is and parlay that into what we do well at Holy Spirit,” said Don McKenna, West Shore regional hospital president at Penn State Health. “We really wanted to take advantage of the niche that each facility brings.” 

An early example of the strategy was the moving of Holy Spirit’s labor and delivery and neonatal intensive care (NICU) services to Hampden Medical Center.  

The physicians and nurse midwives that currently delivered babies at Holy Spirit, as well as the hospital’s neonatal care team all moved to Hampden upon its opening. That shift of services opened around 20 rooms in Holy Spirit for other uses.  

A key difference between the two hospitals, and one that the system has been very intentional about, is space. 

Hampden Medical Center was built to expand its footprint and sustain 250 beds while Holy Spirit’s footprint is tight in comparison, according to McKenna. 

“We have a growth plan and it’s the patients and the physicians that will determine that,” he said. “If they choose care here and we continue to grow, we will grow the facilities.” 

While Holy Spirit has less room to grow, the hospital’s nearly 60 years of service in East Pennsboro Township has refined several its services, which Penn State Health intends to continue to support. 

Holy Spirit boasts a level 2 adult trauma center, and more and more patients are coming to the center’s trauma center, said McKenna.  

Other specialties of the center include heart surgery thanks to the Ortenzio Heart Center located on Holy Spirit’s Campus, and neurosurgery. Penn State Health has provided neurosurgeons to the center even when it was owned by Geisinger. 

Penn State Health employs over 1600 people between the two hospitals alone. Almost every physician on staff is currently working at both hospitals. 

The two-hospital strategy also proves positive for leadership, seeing as though the system can have one leader oversee both facilities, be that in finance, HR or any of the medical specialties. 

“Having these hospitals nearby is a net win,” said McKenna. “We can share HR, technology and clinical specialties and we have two emergency rooms we can access. As a patient, I can be cared for faster, by the same system and have access to the same specialists.” 

Penn State Health did not plan Hampden Medical Center with the intention that it would have another hospital in its portfolio down the street. For McKenna, that timing couldn’t have been more perfect. 

“Sometimes you create an opportunity and sometimes that opportunity presents itself,” he said.  

A key tenant of Penn State Health’s expansion in recent years has been the system’s “10, 20, 30” initiative.  

The system aims to have patients be zero minutes from telehealth services, 10 minutes from a primary care provider, 20 minutes from a specialty care provider and 30 minutes from a Penn State Health hospital. 

McKenna said that this strategy allows the system to have “systemness” to take advantage of not just the two nearby hospitals in Cumberland County but the entire Penn State Health system. 

“We can take care of [an infant or a premature infant] in Hampden at our NICU, or if there is a 28 week-old baby that is so tiny they have to be in a super specialized site like in Hershey, it’s all here and we can think about that continuum,” said McKenna. “Most hospitals don’t have all of that in a local area. They are spread out and don’t have that advantage we have it’s because Penn State Health built it that way.” 

Geisinger employees sue over COVID-19 testing 

More than 70 Geisinger Health System employees filed a class-action suit against Danville-based Geisinger Medical Center and its affiliated hospitals and clinics, claiming its COVID-19 testing requirements for employees exempt from getting the vaccine force them to choose between their religion and their jobs. 

Geisinger issued a vaccine mandate for all its employees in August. It require employees seeking a religious or medical exemption to do so by Sept. 10. 

In a suit filed in U.S. Middle District Court Monday, the employees claim Geisinger did not warned them that by applying for a religious exemption, they would be required to be tested for the virus twice a week beginning Nov. 9, or face dismissal. They are asking the court for an injunction to halt the requirement so they can keep their jobs as the case moves forward. 

Geisinger officials were not immediately available for comment. In a statement to PennLive, Geisinger said that its mandatory vaccine policy has already led to a 50% decline in the number of Geisinger employees testing positive and those out on quarantine. 

“As a private employer, our mandatory vaccine policy and the process associated with it complies with the law, and similar policies have been upheld in state and federal courts,” the system wrote in its statement. 

According to Geisinger’s mandate, employees exempt from the vaccine were required to be tested for COVID-19 on Nov. 9, 11 and 16. After that, tests are required twice a week. Failure to comply would result in dismissal. 

The suit maintains that Geisinger is enforcing the mandate regardless of the religious views of its employees, calling the mandate a violation of their first amendment right to free exercise of religion.  

The mandate effects all Geisinger employees, regardless of if they work in medical facilities or work from home. Geisinger’s rulemaking also has no support from any official mandate from the federal or state government, according to the suit. 

The employees claim that Geisinger never told them that, despite the exemption, they would have to tested for COVID twice a week, wear a mask and be quarantined for longer periods of time than vaccinated coworkers. The suit says the PCR and Antigen tests required by Geisinger contain ethylene oxide, a carcinogen, which the plaintiffs must place inside their body through a nasal swab. 

The suit accuses Geisinger of religious discrimination, civil rights conspiracy, violation of the equal protection clause, retaliation and violating the employees’ right to privacy and medical freedom. 

The plaintiffs, represented by Williamsport-based attorney Gregory Stapp of Stapp Law, argue that Geisinger is retaliating against them because of their religious beliefs that keep them from getting the vaccine or being tested. 

Several federal offices have issued rulemaking on vaccinations in the workplace including the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and The Centers for Medicare and Medicard Services (CMS). 

On Nov. 4, OSHA announced a new emergency temporary standard. As part of the standard, covered employers must develop, implement and enforce a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy, unless they adopt a policy requiring employees to choose between vaccination or undergoing regular testing and wearing a face covering at work. 

The standard impacts two-thirds of the country’s private-sector workforce. 

CMS issued its own interim final rule on Nov. 8, requiring most Medicare- and Medicaid-certified providers and suppliers to vaccinate staff within 60 days. However, staff who exclusively provide telehealth or telemedicine services outside of the hospital and do not have direct contact with patients or staff, are not part of the rule. 

Geisinger limits visitations at 13 hospitals following COVID-19 spikes across state

Geisinger will temporarily restrict in-person visits to all of its hospitals, including Geisinger Holy Spirit, following spikes of positive COVID-19 cases across the state.

The Danville, Montour County-based hospital system announced on Monday that it will once again restrict visitations to its hospitals on Nov. 2.

Exceptions to the new restrictions include visitations to delivering mothers, patients who are medically unstable, any patients who are imminently dying and minors.

Visitations for outpatient procedures, diagnostics and clinical appointments will not be part of the new restrictions.

This is the second time this year that Geisinger has restricted visitations to its hospitals. The system began allowing two visitors for each of its adult patients in June after first limiting visits in March.

On Tuesday, the Pennsylvania Department of Health announced there were 2,751 new positive cases of COVID-19 reported, adding to the statewide total of 198,446. In its most recent report, the department said that daily increases of positive cases were now comparable to what the state saw in April.

In a statement, Geisinger said it understands that restrictions are a point of stress for families and noted that it provides iPads to family members to help make communicating easier.
“It can be difficult being apart from a family member when they’re in the hospital, and having that connection is important,” the system wrote. “Family and friends are encouraged to find alternative ways of visiting, such as phone calls, Facetime, Skype and other means when possible.”

Geisinger employs 33,800 people including 1,800 physicians. The system has 13 hospitals, two research centers and a school of medicine.

Geisinger’s interim president of Health Plan makes it permanent


A Geisinger Health Plan executive of the last six years was named the company’s permanent president this week after serving as interim president since February.

Kurt Wrobel, the Montour County-based health plan’s former chief financial officer and chief actuary, was named the company’s interim president earlier this year.

Geisinger announced that Wrobel will continue as president, as well as executive vice president of insurance operations for Geisinger.

“Kurt has truly stepped up to provide stability and leadership during these past several months, and following a nationwide search, he was the clear choice to lead GHP into the future,” said Dr. Jaewon Ryu, Geisinger’s president and CEO.

Prior to joining Geisinger in 2014, Wrobel was vice president of large group pricing and chief underwriting officer at Humana. He also spent five years in executive leadership roles at PacificCare and United Healthcare.

Wrobel has an MBA in health care management from The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, holds a master’s degree in economics from the University of Wisconsin, Madison and earned his bachelor’s degree in finance from UCLA.

Geisinger Health Plan has approximately 540,000 members and operates throughout the midstate. The Health Plan is part of the Geisinger hospital system, which includes 13 hospitals, two research centers and the Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine.

Geisinger is currently working on a deal with Penn State Health for the Hershey-based system to buy the Holy Spirit Health System in Cumberland County, which Geisinger acquired in 2014.


Geisinger Holy Spirit sale delayed by antitrust investigations

Geisinger Holy Spirit. PHOTO/SUBMITTED

The sale of Geisinger Health-owned Holy Spirit Health System to Penn State Health will take longer than expected after regulatory bodies requested more time to investigate the sale due to antitrust concerns.

Danville, Montour County-based Geisinger Health wrote in a financial update for the nine months ending March 31 that the sale of its Cumberland County Catholic hospital system will extend past its targeted sale date of June 30.

Geisinger announced the pending sale in October after the two parties signed a letter of intent to transfer ownership of the health system and its East Pennsboro Township facilities for an undisclosed amount of money.

In its financial report, Geisinger noted that the Federal Trade Commission and the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office have been investigating the proposed transaction for any potential antitrust behavior.

Both regulatory bodies have asked to extend their investigations, but have not given a timeline for when investigations will be completed.

Geisinger took ownership of Holy Spirit Health System in 2014 and has since invested more than $120 million into Holy Spirit Hospita, its outpatient practices and urgent care centers. The potential purchase comes at a time where Penn State Health is looking to expand its reach into Cumberland County.

The hospital system is currently building its $200 million Hampden Medical Center– a 108-bed hospital located five miles away from Holy Spirit and planned to open in 2021.

Barbara Schindo, a spokesperson for Penn State Health, said the Hershey-based system is committed to completing its deal with Geisinger.

“We are deeply committed to preserving health care access, continuity of care and choice for families in the capital region,” Schindo said. “To that end, our focus remains on bringing Holy Spirit Health System into our Penn State Health family, and preserving important local health care jobs.”

The sale is not the first of Penn State Health’s to be affected by antitrust investigations by the FTC and the state Attorney General. In 2015, the two organizations opposed a merger by Penn State Health and PinnacleHealth, claiming that the merger would give the organizations a monopoly on the region.

The two organizations agreed to cancel the merger, with Pinnacle joining UPMC later in 2017.

Penn State Health signs letter of intent to buy Geisinger Holy Spirit

Geisinger Holy Spirit. PHOTO/SUBMITTED

Penn State Health could be the new owner of Holy Spirit Health System by next year if Penn State Health and Danville-based Geisinger Health follow through on a letter of intent the two systems announced on Tuesday.

Geisinger and Penn State Health plan to enter into an agreement for an undisclosed amount of money that would replace Geisinger as Holy Spirit’s owner and leave Penn State Health in control of the system and its providers.

“This makes sense for both organizations, and more importantly for the people in the Cumberland County and Greater Harrisburg region,” Steve Massini, Penn State Health’s CEO, said in a press release. “People in these growing communities will continue to have local choice and access to the health services they need to live their lives the way they want.”

The deal is coming at a time where health care competition in Cumberland County has heated up to a fever pitch. UPMC Pinnacle operates two hospitals in the county with UPMC Pinnacle Carlisle and UPMC Pinnacle West Shore in Hampden Township and Penn State Health is opening its own hospital in Hampden Township.

Penn State Health broke ground on its $200 million Hampden Medical Center, a 108-bed hospital located five miles away from Geisinger Holy Spirit, in March.

Penn State Health does not see the new Hampden Medical Center affecting Holy Spirit Hospital after it takes ownership. Having two nearby hospitals will instead allow the hospital system to expand on already existing services at Holy Spirit like its ambulatory services and medical offices instead of duplicating, said Massini.

“Without Holy Spirit we would have to build on those things and add those duplicative services to support our hospital and that’s where the cost savings comes in,” he said, noting that Penn State Health could particularly benefit from Holy Spirit’s level two trauma center and its Ortenzio Heart Center.

Geisinger took ownership of the East Pennsboro Township Catholic hospital system in 2014 and has since invested more than $120 million into Holy Spirit Hospital and its outpatient practices and urgent care centers.

Geisinger has made attempts to stay competitive in the space with investments in Holy Spirit’s emergency department and recruiting nearly 100 new providers. However, publicly available data from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services show that Holy Spirit has continued to have a downturn in its charges billed to Medicare patients in the region while nearby hospitals have grown in market share.

In the past year, Geisinger and Penn State Health have strengthened partnerships between their departments with agreements between their neurosurgery and cardiothoracic departments for Penn State Health to allow its surgeons to operate at Holy Spirit.

The partnerships were a part of a broader strategy for Penn State Health to expand its services into Cumberland County, but the system viewed the partnerships as short term opportunities, said Massini. The potential purchase of Holy Spirit is a part of its long term strategy.

“We have considered many options for Geisinger Holy Spirit to move forward, and we believe we have the right organization in Penn State Health,” said Dr. Jaewon Ryu president and CEO of Geisinger. “We already work together on programs such as neurosurgery and cardiothoracic surgery in the Harrisburg region. This is a positive next step for Holy Spirit to continue its legacy of providing quality, compassionate care to this community.”


Geisinger hires new nursing exec

Janet Tomcavage is Geisinger Health System’s newest chief nursing executive. PHOTO/SUBMITTED

Geisinger Health System’s newest executive oversees the Danville-based hospital system’s 6,500-plus nurses.

Janet Tomcavage was named Geisinger’s chief nursing executive on Aug. 1. Tomcavage had been the system’s chief population officer for the last five years.

In that former role, Tomcavage spearheaded the launching of Geisinger at Home, a care model designed to help patients with limited mobility receive care at home.

Tomcavage also held a number of positions with Geisinger Health Plan, including vice president of health services and senior vice president and chief of strategic initiatives.

As the chief nursing executive, Tomcavage will administer Geisinger’s nursing operations, development and research.

“Janet brings outstanding experience in the full scope of nursing and all aspects of inpatient and outpatient care, and I’m excited for her and for all our nurses as she transitions into her new leadership role,” said Dr. Jaewon Ryu, Geisinger president and CEO.

Tomcavage said that she has been proud to be a part of many of Geisinger’s population health programs but said there are many health care hurdles left to tackle.

“There is so much that Geisinger can contribute to solve health care’s largest challenges: the aging population and chronic disease management in our more senior patients; the social determinants of health; and destination care programs,” she said. “And we need to solve the gaps in health care by growing, recruiting and nurturing our nurses.”

Geisinger has 13 hospitals across the state and employs about 32,000 employees. Geisinger’s nearest hospital is Geisinger Holy Spirit in East Pennsboro Township, Cumberland County.