UPMC assesses the most pressing midstate health care needs

Behavioral health, access to health care and prevention are the three most pressing health care needs in Central Pennsylvania in the post-pandemic world.

Tina Nixon, vice president, Mission, Effectiveness and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, UPMC in Central Pennsylvania, said a health needs assessment outlined what people are facing after being homebound and, in many cases, isolated since the pandemic hit in 2020.

The assessment, which looks at the needs for 2022 through 2025, shows an increase in the need for behavioral health due to mental health issues and addiction.

The study also showed there are barriers to people seeking care as they try to navigate the health care system, and a lack of awareness around programs that offer preventative care.

The UPMC study, conducted every three years, surveyed community stakeholders, patients, community leaders, physicians, the faith community, and anyone using UPMC services, Nixon said.

“We need to improve access to and awareness of mental health services,” she said. The main issues – transportation and a shortage of providers.

“We were able to quickly move to telehealth during COVID so we can offer that platform,” she said. “But there is still a waiting list.”

A state report, conducted by the Wolf Administration, released last week, also showed a need for increased mental health services.

A Behavioral Health Commission for Adult Behavioral Health, established by Act 54 of 2022, which made $100 million in one-time American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding available to support adult behavioral health needs, is charting a path for investments, said Acting Human Services Secretary Meg Snead.

Nixon said the UPMC survey showed the lack of mental health providers is partially because many people changed careers during the pandemic.

The state commission, seeing similar statistics, recommends $37 million should be directed to recruitment and retention initiatives to attract qualified professionals and assist those who do this work, so they are not overly stressed and burning out.

Nixon said UPMC is actively recruiting, letting people know the opportunities that exist both in person and via telehealth. Recruitment teams are reaching into the schools, as early as middle school, to promote the vocation, she said.

“We are not alone. All the (health care) systems in Central Pennsylvania are experiencing this, so the impact is great,” Nixon said. “We have to go above and beyond to attract and retain providers.”

While the state and UPMC, along with others in the field, are looking to recruit providers, Nixon said the demand for services needs to be addressed now. Specifically, she said, the UPMC survey shows a spike in demand from teens and African-Amercian males.

“There has been an overall increase in all populations,” she added, “stemming from isolation and adjustments. The pandemic created the inability to interact with friends and a loss of employment.”

In addition, “People don’t know how to find the resources they need so we have to bring awareness to what providers are available,” she said.

To that end, UPMC is creating a “one-stop shop” by imbedding specialists in primary care facilities and community health clinics.

Providing that service has helped, but Nixon said many people have difficulty getting to the facilities due to lack of transportation, especially in rural areas.

The health system has a mobile unit that travels to those areas offering medical assistance and addiction services. Nixon said they also have coordinated care teams that visit the homebound and those recently released from the hospital.

“Our visit teams provide education, medication and safety checks,” she said. “They also provide a bridge between the time a patient is released from the hospital until their follow-up visit with the doctor,” providing wound care, medication checks and education.

Education, she said, runs the gamut from teaching people to monitor their blood pressure to teaching people how to use phones, computers or tablets for telehealth visits.

“People didn’t go to the doctor during COVID and now that they are seeking care, many are sicker than they would have been,” Nixon said.

“We need to look at ways to address the barriers and we can’t do that alone,” she said. “We have to work with other community organizations to provide all the services.”

Those services include prevention. “We want to promote wellness by looking at health related social needs,” she said.

The health system offers community-based health programs for blood pressure and diabetes care and exercise programs with instructors that look like the population they are working with.

Nixon said the programs are not only informative, but they create connection, reducing the feeling of isolation.

“This is not a one-size fits all issue,” Nixon said. “We need to meet people where they are and provide the services necessary to get them the help they need.”

Pennsylvania American Water to buy Butler wastewater system for $231.5M

Hershey-based Pennsylvania American Water, a subsidiary of American Water, has signed an agreement with the Butler Area Sewer Authority to purchase its wastewater system for $231.5 million.

The system serves nearly 15,000 customers over 32.5 square miles, including the City of Butler; Butler and Center townships; East Butler borough; parts of Connoquenessing borough and Summit and Oakland townships; and a small portion of Penn Township.

Pennsylvania American Water already provides drinking water to approximately 19,500 customers in the region.

As part of the agreement, the utility will offer jobs to all of Butler Area Sewer Authority’s employees; maintain the existing operations center for at least 10 years; take over the authority’s planned capital improvement projects utilizing qualified Butler-area contractors; and adopt the authority’s rates at closing with a minimum 1-year rate freeze.

Pennsylvania American Water will make necessary treatment and collection system upgrades to improve the wastewater system, expected to total more than $75 million.

Once approvals from regulators are received, the transaction is expected to close by the end of next year.

“We are pleased that BASA and other community leaders recognized the value we provide to our water customers and are entrusting us with the future ownership of their wastewater system,” Pennsylvania American Water President Mike Doran said in a release. “… Pennsylvania American Water is well positioned to step in and assume responsibility for the community’s wastewater needs by using the existing expertise of current employees, leveraged by the resources we can provide as the commonwealth’s largest water and wastewater utility.”

Paula Wolf is a freelance writer

Three student teams to pitch business plans in annual startup challenge 

Finalists from three Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) universities will pitch their original business plans in the annual State System Startup Challenge. 

Students from California University of Pennsylvania, Kutztown University and Shippensburg University will compete for a top prize of $10,000 and second- and third-place prizes of $50,000 and $2,500 respectively. 

The students will be able to use the funds to support their start-up or expand their already existing business, PASSHE wrote in a press release this week. 

The finalists were whittled down from nearly 60 students and student teams from across PASSHE. 

“Educating and supporting student entrepreneurs is a priority for State System universities, and these amazing finalists demonstrate the innovation coming from our students and supported by our faculty,” said Board of Governors Chairwoman Cynthia Shapira. “Several past winners have launched their own businesses from the ideas born of this real-life experience, and I look forward to the new businesses that may emerge from this year’s competition.” 

The finalists include: 

  • Erin Burney, Shippensburg University. Burney will be pitching IRE Productions, a prop making company servicing cosplayers. Customers can choose from prop weapons, armor and other accessories or provide their own designs to be built. 
  • Shantal Ewell and Kevin Smyth, Kutztown University. The two are pitching Schedula Degree Planner, an online platform focused on college student and advisor interaction. The platform creates a personalized degree plan so students can avoid unnecessary courses. 
  • Luke Melcher, George D’Angelo, Joseph Donatucci and Connor Egan, California University of Pennsylvania. The team is pitching their Vispec Safety System, which would add safety features for riders of electric skateboards, scooters, bicycles and other single-rider forms of transportation. The system monitors hazardous road conditions. 

Judging the event are: Laura Haffne, senior vice president and region bank president for the Greater Pennnsylvania Region for Wells Fargo; Matt Lutcavage, vice president of team experience and chief human resources officer for The Giant Company; Manny Mar, vice president for Bank of America; Mary Oliveira, chief membership officer for the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, and Nandish Patel, founder and CEO of Phoenix Nexus in Bucks County. 

University of Maryland Medical System senior VP joins UPMC 


A former University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS) senior vice president will be taking over as president of UPMC’s PinnacleHealth Medical Group. 

Dr. Jason Marx, previously senior vice president of physician integration and value-based care and chief of the UMMS critical care COVID-19 operations, will succeed Dr. Robert Nielson following his retirement on Thursday. 

Marx served as the inaugural chair of the UMMS physician network management committee. He is also an adjunct assistant professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. 

“With more than 20 years of progressive clinical and operational leadership at the University of Maryland Medical System and St. Joseph Medical Center, Dr. Marx brings a wealth of expertise to this role,” said Phil Guarneschelli, president, UPMC in Central Pa. 

Nielson leaves UPMC on March 31. He joined the system in 2015 after it acquired his practice, Annville Family Medicine. 

Nielsen joined the PinnacleHealth Medical Group as head of population health and became the area’s director in June 2016. 

“We are excited for Dr. Nielsen as he moves on to this new chapter of his life, but he will be deeply missed as a colleague, friend, and major contributor to the health and well-being of our region,” said Guarneschelli. 

Dauphin County Library System begins $3.5 million expansion of historic riverfront library

A rendering of Dauphin County Library System’s incomming expansion to its McCormick Riverfront Library. PHOTO PROVIDED.

The Dauphin County Library System broke ground on a $3.5 million project on Thursday that will combine two historic Harrisburg properties. 

The library system’s project will expand its McCormick Riverfront Library by connecting it with the 5,458-square-foot Front Street residence of Sara Haldeman Haly, who seeded the Dauphin County Library System in 1896. 

When finished, the combined building will boast more than a 3,400-square-foot family area incorporating STEAM learning support, a 950-squaure-foot public meeting space, added public computer resources and more, said the library system in a press release. 

“We’re excited to get started and look forward to standing here about a year from now and welcoming everyone to a dynamic educational and cultural center,” said Karen Cullings, the Dauphin County Library System’s executive director. “The demand for our services has never been higher, and this location in the heart of downtown Harrisburg is easily accessible.”   

The project is expected to be finished in 2022 and the library will remain open during that time. 

The library system is paying for the project with funds from its “Your Place to Belong” campaign. The campaign has raised $2.6 million, or 76% of its goal. 

“For more than a century, this community has generously donated its time and treasure to The Library,” said Your Place to Belong campaign co-chair Andrew Enders. “Now, The Library is returning the favor by investing in the community. We are well on the way to creating an ideal space that models the direction of libraries for the 21st century and beyond.”