Tuesday’s announcement by UPMC Pinnacle that it will close its College Avenue hospital is not the first time a Lancaster hospital will go dark and its workers go to Lititz.
But the similarity between the past and present ends there.
The earlier instance began unfolding on Christmas Eve of 1998, when Community Hospital of Lancaster announced it had agreed to be acquired by a Florida for-profit firm named Health Management Associates.
The story progressed quickly. Two weeks after the proposed deal was disclosed, HMA said it would move the East Orange Street hospital to a new facility, to be constructed at a location yet to be selected.
Just one month later, Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology, a few blocks from Community Hospital, announced it was interested in using the hospital building to accommodate its growth.
That meant when Community Hospital of Lancaster moved its staff to a new hospital named Heart of Lancaster in Warwick Township in 2004, the old hospital building did not stay vacant long.
Thanks to its running start, Stevens opened the repurposed building as classrooms and a dormitory the following year.
So in some ways, Tuesday’s announcement that UPMC Pinnacle will close its Lancaster hospital — the former Lancaster Regional and before that, St. Joseph — rings familiar.
An underused hospital will fall vacant, with a yet-to-be-determined number of its 505 employees moving to that former Heart of Lancaster hospital in Warwick Township, now also owned by UPMC Pinnacle.
But don’t expect a college near the UPMC Pinnacle Lancaster hospital to follow in Stevens’ footsteps and jump at the chance to expand into the hospital building.
“As of now, we have no plans to play a role in its future use,” said Peter Durantine, a spokesman for Franklin & Marshall College.
In the wake of Tuesday’s news, questions center on the undetermined fate of its workforce and its building.
The hospital workforce has been through rough times lately. Besides dealing with changes in ownership, there have been a string of staff reductions.
When the former St. Joseph Hospital was acquired by HMA in 2000, it had 1,049 employees, according to LNP files. Five years ago, as Lancaster Regional, it had 627, according to state records.
The current workforce of 505 is down 19 percent from 2013 and 52 percent from 2000.
A handout given to UPMC Pinnacle employees here says its goal “is to retain and place all affected employees” at other UPMC Pinnacle facilities, not necessarily the Warwick Township hospital.
Will you miss UPMC Pinnacle Lancaster, formerly St. Joseph's Hospital, when it closes next year?
The criteria for determining whether a particular employee gets offered another position include job performance, job classification, department or specialty, and qualifications, the handout says.
If two employees are equally qualified for the same position, the tiebreaker will be seniority, it adds.
The future of the College Avenue building is unclear too.
Standing five stories high, the building contains 326,000 square feet, according to county records. That’s almost as much retail square footage as the Shoppes at Belmont has (365,000 square feet).
The building was constructed in 1958, county records say. But it was renovated several times since, according to UPMC Pinnacle, which paid $29.4 million for the property in July 2017.
F&M is not the only institution to take a pass on the hospital building.
“We are not interested in that location,” said John Lines, spokesman for Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health, the county’s largest health system by far.
“We believe the hospital would require significant capital improvements to enable us to provide the quality experience that our patients expect and deserve,” he explained.
Steve Massini, chief administrative officer and chief financial officer for Penn State Health, said his organization still is processing the news but has no interest in the building “at the moment.”
UPMC Pinnacle said little about its plan for the building, saying only, “Several options to benefit the community are under consideration. Information will be shared when a plan is final.”
Lisa Riggs, president of the Economic Development Company of Lancaster County, believes the property presents a “wonderful opportunity” for a creative re-use.
She said Lancaster County has “a number of current, great examples of major sites being thought of completely differently” than their original use, citing the transformation of the Bulova building and Wilbur Chocolate building into mixed use developments.
But the building’s future hinges on UPMC Pinnacle’s intentions, Riggs noted, and EDC has not yet discussed the property’s future with the nonprofit’s management. Riggs added that community and city input are keys to its future too.
Christine Sable, president and broker of record at Sable Commercial Realty, sees a future use “most likely” involving partial or complete demolition.
“It’s a functionally obsolete building in design and layout, although it’s been well maintained. ...,” she said. “I think the highest and best use of that land will be an entirely new use.”
Possibilities would include offices, residential (including senior living) or mixed use, according to Sable. “There’s a good opportunity here to turn it into a taxable property. If that could happen, it would be a great for the city.”
Sable noted that the property’s appeal is strengthened by the lack of available commercial and industrial real estate in Lancaster city and suburbs, as well as its size and central location.
Randy Patterson, the city’s director of economic development and neighborhood revitalization, echoed Riggs in describing the property as “an exciting opportunity.”
Patterson and others pointed to the need to change the site’s zoning of “hospital complex” so it could be redeveloped for another use.
Patterson said it would be best if the site got new zoning that was compatible with surrounding zoning districts — medium density residential, high density residential and a blend of high density residential, office and institutional uses.