Midstate hospitals detail plans for coronavirus

WellSpan announced on Thursday that it will be using a temporary outdoor patient screening and testing area for patients who may have been exposed to the COVID-19 coronavirus. PHOTO/PROVIDED

The midstate has yet to see its first positive case of coronavirus but with the state’s total number of cases rising to 21 and over 1,200 cases of COVID-19 nationwide as of Thursday morning, area hospitals are looking at which of their employees can work remotely and how many employees their departments need to still operate.

In anticipation for the spread of the virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently updated its list of infection prevention and control recommendations.

The recommendations ask health care providers to minimize the chance of further exposure to the virus by limiting the points of entry to a facility, instruct patients to call ahead before arriving at a facility if they develop the symptoms of a respiratory infection, prioritize patients with respiratory symptoms and practice the use of hand hygiene, personal protective equipment, eye protection, gloves and gowns.

Local hospital systems have already relayed this information to their staff as early as January and have implemented their own contingency plans to keep employees from contracting coronavirus and spreading it further.

Below is a list of statements from area systems on how they will be handling the virus in relation to their employees:

Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health

Penn Medicine will be working with its management teams to determine which of its employees should be working remotely either on a full-time or limited basis, said John Lines, director of public relations and corporate communications for the Lancaster hospital.

“Teams are meeting daily throughout our health system to ensure staff at our physician offices, urgent care sites, emergency department and inpatient settings are prepared to care for coronavirus patients,” Lines said. “As demand for our services evolves, we will ensure the appropriate level of staffing, as well as adequate supplies of respiratory protection, gowns, gloves and other equipment to protect our clinical staff for patient care.”

Penn State Health

The Hershey-based system is utilizing a 14-day self-quarantine for any employees who have traveled to countries with active transmission of COVID-19. Penn State Health plans to continue its normal operation procedures for as long as possible, but has plans in place to manage patients with special illnesses.

Employees can utilize their disability and leave benefits if a sustained outbreak occurs, said Barbara Schindo, media relations specialist at Penn State Health.

“We are continuously reviewing our policies about pay practices and sick time as the situation evolves,” Schindo said. “Should any employees need to take leave because of suspected or confirmed COVID-19, our Employee Health Department will work with affected employees to ensure they return to work at a point when it’s safe for the employee, their colleagues and our patients.”

WellSpan Health

WellSpan is actively developing contingency plans for the York health system that include deciding what levels of staff are needed to support its care facilities and support departments.

The system is limiting group meetings, discontinuing business-related travel beyond its service area and will also be looking into which of its employees can work from home.

WellSpan is still assessing which of its employees would best serve the organization by working remotely and will be announcing further plans in the event that the virus begins to spread into the region, said William Lavery, a spokesperson at WellSpan.

WellSpan announced on Thursday that as part of its response to COVID-19, the system is developing a temporary outdoor patient screening and testing area.

“Doing screening and testing in an open-air setting limits the potential spread of the disease and will help us preserve our negative airflow rooms in our hospitals,” said Dr. R. Hal Baker, senior vice president of WellSpan Health.

UPMC Pinnacle

UPMC Pinnacle’s parent organization, Pittsburgh-based UPMC, has suspended all business travel to China and Italy and is requiring all employees returning to the U.S. after traveling to areas with sustained transmission to be evaluated before returning to work.

A small number of UPMC Pinnacle’s staff has already been self-quarantining at home due to known exposure and compliance with guidance from public health authorities, said Kelly McCall, public relations director at UPMC Pinnacle.

Members of staff who are voluntarily self-quarantined can work from home if appropriate.

Geisinger Holy Spirit

Employees at Geisinger Holy Spirit are recommended to stay home if they are experiencing a fever, cough of shortness of breath. Geisinger teams have been formulating a contingency plan since January, which includes following CDC’s guidelines.

Here’s where midstate hospital systems are expanding

WellSpan’s incoming addition to WellSpan York Hospital, an eight-story tower created to expand the hospital’s inpatient services, is not the only major project the system is working on. In fact, the midstate is currently brimming with new projects in the works from all of the area’s major players.

Below is a list of those projects and when they are expected to be finished:

UPMC Pinnacle

UPMC Pinnacle West Shore: An expansion to the system’s 102-bed, Hampden Township, Cumberland County hospital is expected to add 54 beds,  expand the emergency department and add operating and private patient rooms. Part of the expansion will open in June.

UPMC Outpatient Center, Hanover: UPMC plans to consolidate its outpatient services with a new outpatient center in West Manheim Township, York County. Projected opening date: spring.

WellSpan Health

WellSpan York Cancer Center: Construction began in August on an expansion to WellSpan’s Cancer Center at the system’s Apple Hill Health Campus in York Township. The 67,000-square-foot addition to the center will consolidate the system’s oncology services and is expected to open in spring, 2021.

WellSpan Heart & Vascular Center: WellSpan broke ground on a new heart and vascular center adjacent to its Apple Hill Health Campus in June of last year. The new building is expected to bring the system’s cardiovascular services under one roof. Opening is planned for winter, 2021.

Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health

Ann B. Barshinger Cancer Institute: LG Health is in the process of adding proton therapy to its Lancaster-based cancer institute. The expansion will allow the institute to grow its general research and clinical trial capabilities. Opening is planned for the fall of 2021.

Lancaster General Hospital Emergency Department: Prepared to face an increase of emergency department visits with the closure of UPMC Pinnacle Lancaster in early 2019, LG Health completed a $3 million temporary expansion to its emergency department last summer. The system also announced in April that it was looking at three possible expansions to the hospital. They hope to begin construction this winter.

Penn State Health

Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center Emergency Department: The system completed the first phase of a two-part expansion at its emergency department in May. The second phase of the project is slated for this summer.

Penn State Children’s Hospital: A three-floor addition to Penn State Health’s children’s hospital in Derry Township, Dauphin County, that began in 2018 is set to be completed this fall. The 126,000-square-foot expansion will provide space for a new labor and delivery unit, post-partum patient rooms and a new neonatal intensive care unit.

East Hempfield Township hospital: Penn State Health plans to break ground on a new acute care hospital in East Hempfield Township, Lancaster County, this year. The new facility is proposed for 30 acres near the intersection of State Road and Harrisburg Pike.

Penn State Health Hampden Medical Center: The system’s newest hospital is under construction in Hampden Township, Cumberland County, with a completion date of summer, 2021. The facility will include 108 private beds and more than 300,000 square feet of space.

CocoaPlex outpatient care: In November the system announced it will expand its medical services in Hershey’s CocoaPlex Center in the former theater. The additional outpatient services will open later this year.

This story is a companion piece to WellSpan details new expansion to York hospital.

Clinical trials could help cancer patients, but few do so

An infusion bay overlooks a water feature at the WellSpan Sechler Family Cancer Center in Lebanon. PHOTO/SUBMITTED

Area cancer centers are acutely aware of the importance of getting their patients into clinical trials but experts say the average patient needs more access and education on the benefits of trials before they choose them over better-known therapies.

Last month, researchers at the Hershey-based Penn State Cancer Institute completed a study of more than 12 million patients with 46 types of cancer. The study found that only a tenth of a percent of newly diagnosed cancer patients chose to enroll in clinical trials as their first course of therapy.

Clinical trials for cancer treatment are put through a series of safety standards and are proven to have a reasonable likelihood of effectiveness against certain types of cancers before they are offered as trials, said Dr. Randall Oyer, medical director of oncology at Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health.

Clinical trials can be used to study everything from cancer prevention to cancer diagnosis and treatment. Patients that include the trials in their therapy early also live a median of seven and a half months longer than patients who use other therapies first.

“Clinical trials provide the earliest possible access to the newest cancer treatments,” Oyer said. “They are the standard of care for many cancers and may be a person’s best option for care.”

Patients enrolled in clinical trials also get a number of advantages over their counterparts in standard therapies such as assessments of their cancer stage, status and their likelihood to tolerate the treatment and access to a specialized group of physicians, nurses and pharmacists, said Oyer.

While the trials are proven to have a positive outcome for patients, many people shy away from them because of common misconceptions that they are being’ guinea pigs’ for untested treatments, said Dr. Niraj Gusani, professor of surgery at Penn State College of Medicine and a senior author of the study.

That misconception has kept many patients from becoming early adopters of clinical trials. Penn Medicine has tried to solve that problem through community outreach and education, Oyer said. The health system’s Ann B. Barshinger Cancer Institute is currently increasing its range and number of clinical trials after holding community discussions where similar misconceptions were brought to light.

“Our community told us that they want the opportunity to participate in cutting-edge research and that the most common reasons that they did not do so were lack of information, lack of available trials and lack of physician recommendation,” said Oyer.

To be convinced that a clinical trial is right for them, patients need to get the right information from their physician. While physicians are a primary line of communication to a patient, the center’s research nurses are the ones who relay the information related to clinical trials to those physicians, according to Dr. Robert Rice, Medical Director of WellSpan Cancer Centers.

Clinical trials can also be limited to certain demographics such as specific age groups, which also have to be relayed to physicians in order to find the right patients.

Among WellSpan’s four cancer centers, the system was well above the national average of newly diagnosed cancer patients that chose to take clinical trials.

At WellSpan York Cancer Center 2.5% of newly diagnosed cancer patients chose to take clinical trials; at  WellSpan Adams Cancer Center in Gettysburg had 5.9%, WellSpan Ephrata Cancer Center had 0.9% and WellSpan Sechler Family Cancer Center in Lebanon County had 1.3%. The percentage of all cancer patients participating in clinical trials for those locations was 6% in York, 8% in Gettysburg, 2% in Ephrata and 2% in Lebanon.

Penn Medicine’s Ann B. Barshinger Cancer Institute in Lancaster has approximately 12% of its patients in cancer trials.

Another issue affecting participation is diversity. The study showed that the pool of participants in clinical trials across the country weren’t diverse, with a majority of the patients skewing towards white males with private insurances, advanced stages of cancer, no other chronic medical conditions and treated at academic medical centers.

This has been a well-known problem among health systems, according to Rice.

“When these trials are done, mostly in medical centers, a lot of that population are people who have the means and the ability to travel to those centers,” he said. “It’s been a national push to get more clinical trials out to communities.”

LG Health opens new urgent care

Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health opened its seventh urgent care facility in Elizabethtown on Tuesday. PHOTO/SUBMITTED

Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health opened an urgent care location in Elizabethtown in its newly renovated Norlanco outpatient facility.

The urgent care, located at 418 Cloverleaf Road, is the hospital system’s seventh in the region and offers more services than a traditional urgent care facility such as concussion screening, the ability to administer IV fluid for dehydration, two treatment rooms and increased capabilities for asthma treatment and pain diagnostics.

Lancaster General Health’s other urgent care locations are in East Hempfield Township, Ephrata, Parkesburg, Lebanon, Lititz and downtown Lancaster. LG Health’s Kissel Hill urgent care center in Lititz is the only other facility with expanded services similar to the new urgent care’s offerings.

The facility opened on Tuesday and operates 14 hours a day, seven days a week. It is a part of Lancaster General Health’s Norlanco outpatient facility, which was recently renovated to include new behavioral health and cardiac services as well as an expansion to the facility’s physical therapy offerings.

The Norlanco facility also offers outpatient services like primary and specialty care, mammography and pediatric therapy as well as specialty services like behavioral health and diabetes treatment.

“(Norlanco) is the only facility in Elizabethtown where patients can see a family physician or specialist, have access to care after hours through urgent care and immediate access to advanced imaging, physical therapy and lab testing in one location,” said Jan Bergen, the system’s president and CEO. “To have a single location that offers these comprehensive, high-quality services under one roof increases convenience and improves that health of the Elizabethtown community.”

Penn Medicine to build $45 million proton therapy center


A rendering of a new Proton Center at Ann B. Barshinger Cancer Institute expected to be finished in fall of 2021. PHOTO/SUBMITTED 

Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health will invest $48 million in a new radiation therapy facility in Lancaster; the second of its kind in the state.

Penn Medicine announced today that it broke ground on a four-story, 8,000-square-foot proton therapy center last month. The new facility, part of LG Health’s Ann B. Barshinger Cancer Institute, will be the Philadelphia based-Penn Medicine’s second Proton Center.

Penn Medicine has offered proton therapy from its Roberts Proton Therapy Center in Philadelphia since 2010. The therapy is used on its own, or alongside other treatments such as immunotherapy and chemotherapy, to tackle various cancers.

Proton therapy differs from traditional X-ray therapy by delivering a higher dose of radiation to a cancerous tumor and less radiation to surrounding tissues. Other forms of radiation treat the cancer cell and other tissue cells the same, said Dr. Randall Oyer, medical director of the Barshinger Cancer Institute.

“Lancaster is really the western front of Penn Medicine and we think we can bring a unique service to the central and western part of the state,” said Oyer. “Proton really expands our cancer institute’s focus on personalized medicine, building on our long standing relationship with people in our community and understanding more about the molecular causes of cancer.”

The Proton Center is scheduled for completion by fall 2021 and is expected to treat 110 patients in its first year, and up to 180 in following years, officials said.

The facility will house the $20 million proton therapy machine, which Oyer said will need more than 800 cement mixers worth of concrete surrounding it to keep stable and the radiation confined to the patient.

More than 30 proton therapy centers are operating in the country and because of its scarcity, many insurance companies do not offer it as an option.

“There are some issues that need to be worked out with insurances,” Oyer said. “Medicare covers proton therapy and we work with private insurers.”

In Philadelphia about 70 percent of patients are covered for proton therapy, but insurers have had almost 10 years to add the therapy to their plans, he said.

The cost of the equipment will also keep treatment more expensive than other therapies, but Oyer said proton therapy reduces visits for radiation therapy and treatment for side effects from radiation damage.

Penn Medicine to open urgent care in Elizabethtown

Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health plans to open an urgent care office in Mt. Joy Township, Lancaster County, the health system’s seventh such office.

The new urgent care location is an extension of the Lancaster General Health Norlanco outpatient facility and will offer more services than Penn Medicine’s other six facilities when it opens in November.

The urgent care office’s additional services will include: the administration of IV fluid for dehydration, two treatment rooms with monitoring capabilities, concussion screening, and increased capabilities for asthma treatment and pain diagnostics.

“This will be the only facility in Elizabethtown where patients can see a family physician or specialist, have access to care after hours through urgent care and immediate access to advanced imaging, physical therapy and lab testing in one location,” Jan Bergen, president and CEO of Lancaster General Health, said in a press release. “To have a single location that offers these comprehensive, high-quality services under one roof increases convenience and improves that health of the Elizabethtown community.”

Lancaster General Health’s Norlanco facility already houses practices specializing in OB-GYN, heart health, family medicine, diabetes and endocrinology, arthritis and rheumatology, and EMG testing.

The urgent care clinic will open following renovations to the building, which are expected to be finished by November. The new location is expected to be open 14 hours a day, seven days a week and will be staffed by physicians and providers on the system’s medical staff.

Lancaster General Health has six other urgent care facilities. They are in North Cornwall Township, Lebanon County; Parkesburg, Chester County; and Lancaster, Warwick Township, East Hempfield Township and Ephrata Township in Lancaster County.