Good morning. If it works for curbing a governor's emergency powers, maybe it will be the magic key for privatizing state liquor stores. We're talking about the process for amending Pennsylvania's constitution. GOP lawmakers have worked for years to end the state's monopoly on wine and liquor sales. While some changes have been made, they have fallen short of full privatization. Rep. Natalie Mihalek, a Republican from western Pennsylvania, said she plans to introduce a bill that would put the issue before voters as a constitutional amendment.
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Wolf seeks FEMA aid for hospital staffing, test kits

Gov. Tom Wolf is seeking federal help for local hospitals, nursing homes and ambulance companies grappling with a spike in Covid-19 cases.
  • Citing a strain on the health care system around the state, Wolf asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency for assistance with staffing.
  • He also asked for more testing and treatment resources: 1 million rapid at-home Covid-19 tests and additional supplies of monoclonal antibodies used to treat people with the virus.
  • “I am hopeful that these critically important supports will be addressed to alleviate the strain on our health care system and ultimately be able to provide Pennsylvanians the care they need during this time.”
  • FEMA is reviewing Pennsylvania's request, according to an agency spokesperson, who declined to offer a timeline for the review.

What's the strain: In some cases, local hospitals are seeing their inpatient counts near or surpass levels seen last December -- before Covid-19 vaccines were widely available.
  • While figures vary for the eight hospitals operated by WellSpan Health across Central Pennsylvania, the regional health system as a whole is treating more Covid-19 patients at one time -- nearly 450 -- than it has at any point in the pandemic, according to WellSpan spokesperson Ryan Coyle. 
  • "Due to overcrowding, some patients are being triaged in waiting areas as they await hospital beds," Coyle wrote in an email. "While Department of Health waivers in the pandemic allow for this, we are greatly concerned with the influx of more patients in the coming days and weeks."
  • At Penn State Health hospitals, the count is 183 patients with Covid-19, according to spokesperson Scott Gilbert. That is below a peak of 230 recorded on Dec. 29, 2020.
  • In Lancaster County, which has three hospitals, 186 patients were hospitalized as of Dec. 15, according to state data. The county's 14-day rolling average was 163.9, just shy of last winter's high of 164.1
The bottom line: Pennsylvania rolled out a range of efforts to confront the pandemic last winter, from mask mandates to limits on restaurant dining and indoor crowds. Hybrid and online schooling also were the norm.

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Quick takes

WHAT SOLD: A nearly 200,000 square-foot industrial building at 3285 Farmtrail Road in Manchester Township, York County. The building, which is home to contract furniture company Blockhouse, was purchased this month for $17 million by an arm of Massachusetts investment firm High Street Logistics Properties, according to York County deed records. The seller was a partnership headed by Stephen Perko, owner of Blockhouse, and Stephen Perko Jr., president of the company, according to the deed.
  • Lancaster-based True Commercial Real Estate represented the buyer and seller in the sale-leaseback transaction.
  • Efforts to reach Perko Jr. were not successful. A High Street partner declined to comment but did confirm that Blockhouse was staying put under a long-term lease.
  • The deal adds to High Street's holdings in Central Pennsylvania. Among other properties, the company owns a warehouse/factory building used by manufacturer York Wallcoverings at 2075 Loucks Road in West Manchester Township, York County.

WHO'S MERGING: RKL LLP and Rotz & Stonesifer PC, two regional accounting and consulting firms. Effective Jan. 1, Chambersburg-based Rotz & Stonesifer will merge into Lancaster-based RKL, adding more than 50 people to RKL's staff and extending its footprint into Adams and Franklin counties. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
  • For RKL, the merger also adds offices in Chambersburg, Greencastle, East Berlin and York, bringing the firm's total to 12.
  • "This merger is an exciting opportunity to advance our firm’s strategic growth objectives and introduce RKL to new communities in South Central Pennsylvania and beyond," RKL CEO Ed Monborne said in a statement.
  • Lynn Rotz, president, CEO and managing shareholder at Rotz & Stonesifer, will become a partner at RKL and lead the firm's Adams and Franklin operations.
  • Also joining the RKL partnership from Rotz & Stonesifer are Todd Stonesifer, L. David Law, and Michael Buhrman. 

The background: The transaction is the second this year for RKL. The firm recently merged with Allentown-based Stoudt Associates
  • RKL, its wealth management arm and its national IT consulting subsidiary RKL eSolutions now have a staff of about 500.
  • RKL has offices across Central Pennsylvania and in the Lehigh Valley. The firm already has a York office but plans to keep the Rotz & Stonesifer office there.

WHO'S MOVING ON: Anne Baum, the longtime Lehigh Valley market leader for Capital Blue Cross. On Jan. 3, Baum is slated to become the first president of Lehigh Valley Reilly Children's Hospital, which is part of Lehigh Valley Health Network. Baum has worked for Capital Blue since 2010 as the face of the Dauphin County-based insurer in the Lehigh Valley.
  • Dave Skerpon, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Capital Blue, will become the interim executive in charge of the region, according to spokesperson Jerry Reimenschneider. 
  • "Capital Blue Cross is fortunate to have a strong team in the Lehigh Valley, and that team will continue capably serving the region while we evaluate next steps," Reimenschneider wrote in an email.
  • The insurer recently unveiled a $4 million renovation to its regional headquarters in Allentown. The office now includes a Capital Blue Cross Connect health and wellness center, which is open to the public.

The background: Capital Blue Cross provides health insurance in 21 counties in Central Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley.


WHO'S BUILDING: International Paper. The Memphis-based company said yesterday it plans to erect a corrugated packaging plant outside Atglen, a Chester County borough near Christiana in Lancaster County. The plant is being added to an existing International Paper warehouse, according to a company spokesperson, who declined to share the cost or size of the new plant.
  • In a press release, International Paper said construction would begin in the first quarter of 2022, and the plant would be fully operational by the first quarter of 2023.
  • The plant would employ 150 people and become the sixth International Paper plant in Pennsylvania making corrugated boxes.
  • Others are in Biglerville, Eighty Four, Hazleton, Toughkenamon and Mt. Carmel.
  • The company also has a plant in Lancaster that makes a solid-fiber product pitched as a more durable alternative to corrugated packaging.


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Compiled and written by Joel Berg

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