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Covid-19 care as seen at Penn State Health Hampden Medical Center, the system's new hospital in Cumberland County (photo/submitted).

Amid new surge in Covid-19, hospital execs warn of strain

Though their words were measured, regional health system executives yesterday warned that their hospitals and staff are being overwhelmed by patients with Covid-19.
  • The warnings came from leaders of both WellSpan Health and Penn State Health, who said conditions may get worse before they get better.
  • “What we are seeing and experiencing now is unlike anything I have seen before. This is not business as usual,” said Deborah Addo, COO of Dauphin County-based Penn State Health and an executive with more than three decades of experience in health care.

What are they seeing: A surge in patients that is approaching the highs seen last winter.
  • But this time around, health systems are dealing with a highly transmissible variant of Covid-19, omicron.
  • Although the variant seems to cause less illness than earlier variants -- and roughly half of Central PA residents are fully vaccinated -- the sheer numbers mean that hospitals are still straining nearly two years after the pandemic began.
  • “Many in the public have no idea of the stresses our doctors, nurses and health care teams are under inside the walls of these hospitals day after day,” said Anthony Aquilina, chief physician executive at York County-based WellSpan.
  • In addition, hospitals are losing staff who must quarantine after being exposed or falling ill themselves.
  • “It’s unprecedented,” said Addo, who emphasized that the quality of care is not suffering as a result.

Are they getting help: Some. Since Jan. 3, WellSpan York Hospital has been benefiting from the aid of a 20-member strike team of medical professionals from the military. It is one of two hospitals from the state to host a team, sent by the feds in response to a request from Gov. Tom Wolf.
  • The team of four doctors, 14 nurses and two respiratory care professionals is slated to work at WellSpan for 30 days but their stay could be extended, according to strike team leader Lieutenant Colonel Scott Jensen, who serves in the U.S. Air Force.
  • In the meantime, the aid is allowing WellSpan Health to shift existing staff to other hospitals where they may be needed, according to WellSpan CEO Roxanna Gapstur. 
  • Hospitals and health systems also have been relying on outside staffing agencies, but prices have spiked, fueling concerns about price gouging.
  • WellSpan operates eight hospitals spread across Adams, Franklin, Lancaster, Lebanon and York counties.
  • Penn State Health operates hospitals in Berks, Cumberland and Dauphin counties and is planning a new facility in Lancaster County.

What’s the outlook: Executives are clearly bracing for an extended surge in Covid-19 cases and, at press conferences yesterday, repeated their calls for people to get vaccinated. They noted that most, if not all, of the sickest patients are unvaccinated.
  • However, they also expressed guarded optimism based on the lesser severity of omicron and the variant’s course in other countries, notably South Africa and the United Kingdom.
  • Modeling by Penn State Health and its partners at Pittsburgh-based Highmark and Allegheny Health Network shows increasing numbers for the next three to four weeks, according to Dr. Peter Dillon, chief clinical officer at Penn State Health.
  • Numbers could then start falling, he said. But he stressed that it's just a hypothesis.
  • “We’re very cautious about looking too far out into the future right now," he said.


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Quick takes

WHO’S ROLLING: Bank of Bird-in-Hand. The Lancaster County bank is seeking permission from state regulators to bring one of its mobile branches – dubbed Gelt buses – into upper Dauphin County around Gratz. The buses are designed to serve the Amish and other members of the Plain community who may lack convenient access to a conventional branch.
  • The bank currently operates three Gelt buses that make stops at locations in Lancaster and Chester counties. Gelt is a word for money in Pennsylvania Dutch.
  • To serve upper Dauphin, the bank is bringing its original Gelt bus out of retirement, according to Lori Maley, president and CEO of Bank of Bird-in-Hand, which is based in Leacock Township.
  • The bank has not finalized locations where the bus will stop, Maley wrote in an email, but she expects it to start with two locations. The bus will have a staff of two, she added.

Why upper Dauphin: Amish families from Lancaster County moved to the area in the late 1970s and they maintain close ties to Lancaster, according to Maley.
  • Bank of Bird-in-Hand opened in 2013 with an emphasis on serving the Plain community.

WHO'S HIRING: Saxton & Stump. The Lancaster-based law firm has brought on a former exec from The Hershey Co. to fill a new position dubbed director of success. Sara Arndt, who worked most recently as Hershey's legal operations manager, will play a role in managing the law firm's resources to achieve its goals, as well as recruiting and integrating new hires
  • Like other firms, Saxton & Stump has been branching into new businesses, including marketing and consulting.
  • It also has been growing quickly. The firm added 53 professionals in 2021, bringing its total to 140, including 75 attorneys.
  • Arndt (pictured below) worked at Dauphin County-based Hershey for more than 15 years and is a graduate of Elizabethtown College.


WHO'S REBRANDING: ACNB Corp. The Gettysburg-based bank has renamed its Maryland-based insurance subsidiary, which the bank bought in 2005. Formerly known as Russell Insurance Group, the unit is now going by the name ACNB Insurance Services
  • The move stems from the agency's growth from its Maryland base into ACNB's broader service area, according to a press release.
  • In addition to Westminster, Maryland, the agency now has offices in Gettysburg, as well as in Germantown and Jarrettsville, Maryland.
  • ACNB has assets of $2.8 billion and offices across Central Pennsylvania and northern Maryland.
  • Insurance, wealth management and other lines of business provide banks with additional revenue sources beyond lending money.

WHO'S GOT APPROVAL: Driver Management, the New York hedge fund pushing for a sale of Codorus Valley Bancorp, the York County-based parent of PeoplesBank. State banking regulators this week appoved Driver's request to solicit proxies from more than 10% of Codorus Valley's voting shares -- an approval that paves the way for Driver's potential bid to add new directors to the bank's board this spring.

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Compiled and written by Joel Berg

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