Levine: Pennsylvania facing fall resurgence of COVID 19

The increase in Pennsylvania COVID-19 cases over the past week are the first signs the virus is surging into the fall, according to state Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine.

The state Department of Health confirmed 1,276 positive cases of the virus in one day– the ninth day in a row that numbers rose above 1,000 cases. The number of positive cases stayed under 1,000, with some exceptions, since May, with the highest average of positive cases per day happening in mid-April.

“We have seen more than 1,000 cases a day for the past nine days, which shows that we are at the start of a fall resurgence of COVID-19,” said Levine. “While we are working to expand testing, prepare for a vaccine and prevent outbreaks, Pennsylvanians have an important role to play. We must be united by wearing a mask, washing our hands, social distancing and avoiding large gatherings, downloading the COVID Alert PA mobile app and getting a flu vaccine.”

Counties that have been particularly affected by the rise in cases will be the first to receive the state’s allotment of 250,000 COVID-19 antigen test kits. The kits were provided to Pennsylvania by the federal government and were distributed to Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments-certified institutions across Pennsylvania, according to the state Department of Health.

The test cards allow for quick and easy testing in communities by looking for proteins that make up the virus and will first be distributed to Bradford, Centre, Lebanon, Montour, Northumberland, Schuylkill and Snyder counties, said Levine.

“With the increase in testing and cases, the department is continuing efforts to conduct case investigations and contact tracing,” she said. “However, for these efforts to be successful, it is important for Pennsylvanians to participate in the process. If you are contacted by a case investigator or contact tracer, it is essential that you answer the phone and participate in the interview.”

Gov. Tom Wolf initiates plan for comprehensive health care reform

Governor Tom Wolf unveiled a plan on Friday that addresses comprehensive health reforms. PHOTO PROVIDED.

Gov. Tom Wolf established a number of councils and commissions on Friday that his administration says will help the state address comprehensive reforms in both physical and behavioral health and make health care easier to access for Pennsylvanians.

The reform package, which has three components, was created to make health care more affordable, hold health care corporations accountable and tackle health inequalities resulting from systemic racism, Wolf said after unveiling the plan.

“Even before the pandemic, there were warning signs that Pennsylvania’s health care system wasn’t working for everyone,” he said. “Many Pennsylvanians found it hard to pay their medical bills due to rising health care costs, including families who have health care coverage and often have to pay higher premiums and more out-of-pocket costs every year.”

As part of the three-part plan, Wolf signed an executive order establishing the Interagency Health Reform Council (IHRC). The council, made up of commonwealth agencies involved in health and the governor’s office, will develop recommendations to streamline the state’s health care systems by the end of the year.

The Wolf Administration wrote in the accompanying release that the recommendations could include information on how systems can increase joint purchasing of medications, align value-based purchasing models and better utilize data from state agencies.

Wolf’s plan also calls for the formation of five Regional Accountable Health Councils across the state. The councils will be asked to develop regional plans to reduce disparities in health care, address social disparities in the state that effect health and align value-based purchasing agreements.

Wolf will work with the legislature to create a Health Value Commission charged with keeping all payers and providers accountable for health care cost growth. This, administration says, will “provide the long-term affordability and sustainability of our health care system, and to promote whole-person care.” More than 1.5 million Pennsylvanians are expected to become uninsured as a result of the pandemic, according to the administration.

Dr. Doug Jacobs, chief innovation officer at the state Department of Human Services, supported the plan, saying it is crucial for health care in Pennsylvania to be both affordable and offer a “whole-person approach to care.”

“Governor Wolf is proposing a whole-person health reform package that will make comprehensive, quality health care more affordable and accessible,” he said.

State officials announce tiered prioritization plan for COVID-19 testing

State officials revealed a new plan that outlines the state’s priorities when it comes to who should be tested for COVID-19 and when.

While any Pennsylvanian who wants or needs a COVID-19 test can request one from providers and labs, the state announced the new four tier prioritization plan to help public health officials, health care providers and laboratories know who to test first.

“When we established our testing strategy, we wanted testing to be accessible, available and adaptable and we are working to meet that challenge,” said Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine. “Anyone who believes they have symptoms of COVID-19 can get tested today in Pennsylvania.”

The plan first prioritizes anyone hospitalized with signs or symptoms of the virus, symptomatic individuals that are close in contact with someone who has COVID-19 and asymptomatic individuals with certain underlying health conditions who are in close contact with someone with the virus.

Tier two of the plan gives priority to all other individuals with COVID-19 symptoms, close contacts of confirmed cases who are asymptomatic and asymptomatic individuals who live in congregate care facilities or work in health care, non-long-term congregate-care facilities, home health, emergency services, child and adult protective services, correctional facilities and compassionate care and hospice services.

Someone falls into tier three of the state’s prioritization plan if there is a high prevalence of the virus in their community and they work in an industry where it is difficult to maintain six feet of space from other people such as retail and manufacturing.

The fourth priority is for anyone who as asymptomatic and does not fall into any other category.

Pennsylvania testing facilities currently offer two different kinds of tests: PCR tests, which the state considers the gold standard but is limited in supply and has a longer turnaround time, and antigen tests, which are more widely available with same-day results but can vary in accuracy.

Penn Medicine Lancaster CEO Jan Bergen to retire in January

Jan Bergen, president and CEO of Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health. PHOTO PROVIDED

Jan Bergen, president and CEO of Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health, announced today that she will retire from the Lancaster-based health system in January.

Bergen has been part of LG Health since she joined the system in 2000 as Senior Vice President of Ambulatory Care and the Women & Babies Hospital. She has acted as the system’s president and CEO since Sept. 2015.

“Thanks to her exceptional leadership, LG Health is recognized nationally for excellence in patient care and its relentless commitment to improving the health and well-being of all in our community,” said D. Michael Wege, chairman of the Lancaster General Health Board of Trustees. “For this and so much more, Jan has our profound gratitude.”

Under Bergen’s leadership, LG Health has expanded Lancaster General Hospital and opened its 126-bed Lancaster Behavioral Health System.
The system currently oversees three hospitals, more than 60 physician practices, dozens of ambulatory facilities and more than 624 physicians and advance-practice professionals.

Prior to being named president and CEO, Bergen led all operations within LG Health and oversaw the opening of the Ann B. Barshinger Cancer Institute in 2013.

“It is not easy to put into words how much Jan has done for LG Health and the health of South Central Pennsylvania,” said Kevin Mahoney, CEO of the University of Pennsylvania Health System. “She has led with expertise, energy, passion and displayed a true service-oriented commitment and connection to her community. Her strategic vision and tireless advocacy for patient care have been the driving forces behind LG Health’s growth.”

The Lancaster General Health Board of Trustees, Penn Medicine leadership and an advisory committee of local business and community representatives will be leading a national search for a successor.


WellSpan Health executive to lead WellSpan York Hospital


An executive with five years of experience at WellSpan Health will be taking over as the York-based hospital system’s senior vice president for the central region and the president of WellSpan York Hospital.

Victoria Diamond, a WellSpan executive for the past five years, will oversee WellSpan York Hospital as well as WellSpan Surgery and Rehabilitation Hospital and Apple Hill Medical Center.

Diamond previously served as senior vice president for the health system and president of WellSpan Surgery and Rehabilitation Hospital where she led strategic and operational efforts to advance the hospital.

She first joined WellSpan in 2015 as COO of WellSpan York Hospital and will be rejoining the hospital as its president.

“Vicky’s experience developing solutions to complex health care issues will undoubtedly help us advance our WellSpan vision and strategy,” said John Porter, executive vice president and chief operating officer of WellSpan Health. “She embodies the WellSpan Working As One spirit and we’re excited to welcome her back to WellSpan York Hospital, where her journey with us began.”

Diamond earned her bachelor’s degree from City University of New York, Queens College and her master’s degree in public administration from the Wagner School of Public Service at New York University.

She has also held leadership positions at NYU Medical Center in New York and UMass Memorial Health Care System in Massachusetts.

“I am so proud of the dedication and hard work of this team to provide quality, value-based health care to our patients,” said Diamond. “I am thrilled to lead such an exceptional group of healthcare professionals at WellSpan York Hospital and the entire York region, as we remain committed to being a trusted partner in this community.”

Bill that provides $500M in COVID relief for senior care sent to Gov. Wolf

A bill that would use $500 million in federal COVID-19 relief to help nursing homes, assisted living communities and personal care homes combat the spread of the virus is on Gov. Tom Wolf’s desk awaiting his signature.

House Bill 2510 was approved by both the House and Senate Thursday after being introduced on May 6 by Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny.

If signed into law by Wolf, the bill would designate at least one health system in six regions to receive the funds to administer or manage personnel, protocols, testing and expenditures to ensure the elder-care facilities can protect their residents.

The funding is planned to be lifted from Pennsylvania’s $3.9 billion in COVID-19 funding from the federal government.

Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine reported on Thursday that there were 17,721 cases of COVID-19 in nursing and personal care homes across the state. The number includes residents and staff. Of the state’s 5,373 COVID-related deaths, 3,501 occurred among residents of nursing or personal care facilities.

Nearly $300 million will go directly to support long-term care providers.

“Long-term care has become the epicenter of this epidemic in Pennsylvania, and facilities across the state have fought to obtain testing, personal protective equipment and staffing resources, often without the means to cover rising costs and expenses,” said Zach Shamberg, president and CEO of the Harrisburg-based Pennsylvania Health Care Association.

Shamberg applauded the Pennsylvania General Assembly for approving the bill, noting that the bill was a “clear message of support to those on the front lines.”

Hope Loves Company Fundraiser at Friendly's

Bring your family and friends to Friendly’s at High Pointe Blvd. to support Hope Loves Company, a nonprofit dedicated to providing support for children and young adults who had or have a loved one battling ALS. The event runs from 5 P.M. through 8 P.M. For more information about the great things that HLC does, visit https://www.hopelovescompany.org/

Hope Loves Company Fundraiser at Friendly's

Bring your family and friends to Friendly’s at High Pointe Blvd. to support Hope Loves Company, a nonprofit dedicated to providing support for children and young adults who had or have a loved one battling ALS. The event runs from 5 P.M. through 8 P.M. For more information about the great things that HLC does, visit https://www.hopelovescompany.org/

Hamilton Health Center announces $14 million expansion

Jeannine Peterson, CEO of Hamilton Health Center, announces the center’s newest string of expansions at its 50th anniversary Golden Gala on Thursday. PHOTO/IOANNIS PASHAKIS

Hamilton Health Center plans to begin raising funds for a three-part, $14 million project at its 17th St. headquarters that would provide greater services in and around the city’s South Allison Hill neighborhood.

The three projects, announced by CEO Jeannine Peterson Thursday night at the center’s 50th Anniversary Golden Gala at Hershey Lodge, which can be developed independently from one another, include the a women and children’s department, a fresh food distribution center and a workforce development program.

The women and children’s department would combine the center’s women, infant and children services as well as its case management programs to help families better navigate the system’s supportive services, said Peterson.

Hamilton, which receives funds through the federal Department of Health and Human Services, also plans to address its community’s food insecurity through a fresh food distribution center that would expand upon the first floor of the 110 S 17th St. Hamilton Health Center.

A rendering by Hamilton Health Center shows one of the center’s new proposed expansion projects- a workforce development space that would help prepare people for the health care industry. PHOTO/PROVIDED

As a part of the fresh food initiative, Hamilton also plans to install an industrial teaching kitchen that would give patients and clients a place to learn how to cook healthy meals for their families.

The third expansion to the headquarters involves a new workforce development program. Peterson said Hamilton’s growth in recent years has created a severe need for a more reliable workforce pipeline that the center will be looking at filling with a new classroom experience in its main facility.

“The program will target low income individuals to help them build careers in the health care field,” she said. “Developing our own workforce pipeline will not only help us fill our vacancies but give our target population opportunities for financial security.”

As a part of the initiative, Hamilton is also exploring a certified nurse practitioner program and a partnership with Penn State Health that would provide clinical rotations for family practice, pediatric or internal medicine residents.

Hamilton has already invested $1 million into the new project and plans to announce a capital campaign in the coming months.

The project outlined by Peterson, shows the direction the center will be going in the coming years.

“Researchers found that primary care providers must address a patients social and economic conditions to help and approve the health outcomes of the population,” said Peterson. “In our community, the issues of poverty, low literacy and food insecurity are significantly impacting our resident’s health conditions and behaviors.”

Hamilton operates six facilities and is primarily focused in the capital region where it offers dental care, podiatry, mental health services, family planning and more. Hamilton provides outpatient services to the city’s underserved population, regardless of the patient’s ability to pay.

Select EMS agencies get more care options under test of new Medicare model

A new Medicare payment model being tested on three midstate EMS agencies will offer more options for caring with patients covered under Medicare

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), a federal agency that oversees Medicare and Medicaid programs across the country, announced 205 ambulance care organizations that will participate in its new Emergency Triage, Treat and Transport (ET3) Model late last month.

The model drew 210 applicants nationally and CMS chose 205 applicants from 36 states and the District of Columbia.

The local participants include: Harrisburg-based Community LifeTeam EMS; Camp Hill-based Geisinger Emergency Medical Services, formerly known as West Shore Advanced Life Support Services; and Hershey-based Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

Currently, Medicare only pays ground-based emergency ambulance services when they transport patients to specific types of facilities, with hospital emergency departments being the most common. The new model, which is set to begin this spring and last over a five-year period, will increase the options that participating organizations have with patients, the department wrote in a press release this week.

“For a patient who calls 911 for emergency medical services, the only path for the EMS agency to receive reimbursement for the call is to transport the patient to the emergency department,” said Paul Christophel, executive director at Geisinger EMS. “If a patient can be treated at home and EMS resolves their issue, the EMS agency does not receive reimbursement”

Participants in the model will continue to receive Medicare payments for transporting the Medicare beneficiary to an emergency department, but they would also be covered if they take that patient to a primary care doctor’s office or urgent care clinic.

CMS doesn’t plan to limit the alternative destinations that the EMS agencies can may use, as long as the treatment is provided by Medicare enrolled providers, a CMS spokesperson said in a statement.

The organization could also receive payments for treating the patient at the scene or through telehealth to connect the patient directly to a physician.

Geisinger EMS already treats its patients at home when appropriate, according to Christophel, but the change in model would allow the EMS agency to receive reimbursement for such treatment.

Delivering the Medicare beneficiary to a primary care doctor where fees are cheaper than an emergency room will save both EMS agencies and their Medicare beneficiaries money, said Scott Buchle, program manager at Penn State Health Life Lion EMS.

Patients with less severe conditions like colds and seasonal flu can still be delivered to an emergency department under the current model—conditions that aren’t always covered by insurances and can incur costs on the EMS and its patients, he said.

Through the new model, EMS agencies will be reimbursed for taking Medicare patients to hospitals, physician practices and urgent and walk-in care centers, said Craig Skurcenski, vice president of emergency medicine at UPMC Pinnacle.

“While this new program authorizes payment for alternative care destinations, our primary goal continues to be proper and appropriate care for all patients,” he said. “This will be ensured by patients having a consultation with a licensed provider prior to determining where a patient will be transported.”

Once CMS outlines the rules for the program, EMS agencies will be able to negotiate agreements with local urgent care centers and prepare to leverage technology such as telehealth in their ambulances, Penn State’s Buchle said. Penn State Health’s Life Lion EMS will be looking at bringing Medicare patients to Penn State Health clinics when that patient has a primary care physician within the system.

“In Dauphin and Lebanon counties, the Life Lion units would be allowed to transport to our University Physician Center clinics if the patient has a primary care provider at one of those locations,” he said. “We can also work with our existing telehealth resources within Penn State Health to help provide the care needed.”

Along with the 205 EMS agencies, CMS said it plans to offer funding for up to 40 two-year cooperative agreements between it and local governments or their 911 call centers in regions where a participating agency practices.

The funding would help a local government or call center afford to put a nurse, nurse practitioner or physician assistant in a 911 center to help direct patients to the right care, said Buchle.

The two-year cooperative agreements are a test to see if call centers and the approved EMS agencies can work together to avoid unnecessary transportation even further than what the new model can provide.

“The model will test whether these new options for emergency services will work synergistically to improve quality and lower costs by reducing avoidable transports to the emergency department and unnecessary hospitalizations following those transports,” the department said in a statement.

Dept. of Aging releases guide for older Pennsylvanians

Pennsylvania’s available services for aging residents are detailed in the state Department of Aging’s new 2020 Benefits and Rights Book.

The department released the guide of information and resources for older Pennsylvanians on Tuesday to act as a one-stop shop for residents to learn about the state’s services, said Pennsylvania Secretary of Aging Robert Torres.

“Many older Pennsylvanians are unaware of what’s available to them as they continue to age in their community and their home,” Torres said. “The Department of Aging is proud to offer this free guide to all older Pennsylvanians as a way to assist them in living happy, healthy lives.”

The 120-page guide includes information on state programs related to caregiver support, employment, health and wellness, help at home, housing, prescriptions, legal assistance and more and is accessible through the department’s website, Area Agency on Aging offices and state senator and representative offices.

Pennsylvania has the fourth highest percentage of residents over the age of 60 in the country at 21.3%, and by 2050, one in five Pennsylvanians will be age 65 and older.

In the guide, Torres asks the state’s older adults to be sure they take part in the 2020 Census to be sure the state has an accurate count of aging adults for federal programs.

“With Pennsylvania’s increasingly diverse older population, participating in the census is crucial. It determines how federal dollars are spent that help provide programs like Medicaid, Medicare Part B, nutrition services, SNAP and more,” Torres said.


WellSpan plans $255 million expansion for York Hospital

An extension to WellSpan York Hospital is planned to be built on the site of the hospital’s Marie Ketterman Building and South Hall by 2025. PHOTO/SUBMITTED

WellSpan York Hospital will expand its intensive care unit with a $255 million surgical and critical care tower, planned to open on the hospital’s campus in 2025.

WellSpan Health said today it will build an eight-story tower that will increase the hospital’s number of Intensive Care Unit beds and allow for larger surgical suites and new anesthesia and pre-and-post-operative care areas.

The project is expected to add 248,000 square feet of space, and 32,000 square feet of renovations, an increase in size that the hospital system said would make it one of the 10 largest in the state.

The tower is set to be built near the intersection of West Drive and Irving Road on the site where WellSpan York Hospital’s Marie Ketterman Building and South Hall currently stand, which will require the two buildings to be demolished.

“This project will build upon WellSpan York Hospital’s reputation as a regional destination for the most advanced care for patients with complex medical conditions,” said John Porter, executive vice president and COO of WellSpan.

The tower’s new surgical suites will be large enough to make room for robotic surgical and advanced medical technology already used in some of the hospital’s operating rooms. WellSpan said that the expansion would make every operating room capable of using the technology.

Expanded operating rooms will incorporate pain management techniques meant to reduce the need for opioids and pain medicine after procedures, said Porter.

WellSpan’s surgical and critical care tower is expected to increase the hospital’s ICU bed count from 60 to 96, bringing the hospital’s overall beds to more than 600. The unit will have new spaces for family wishing to stay with the patient during their stay in critical care.

The new ICU will be near the new operating rooms in the tower, providing a more streamlined healing process for critical patients.

To allow for the increase in patient population at the hospital, the project will include an additional 150 parking spaces for patients and visitors, which the system said could be added to the hospital’s front parking deck as an extension.