Strike Team response

A U.S. Air Force medical response team member attends glucometer training at Wellspan Education Center in York on Jan. 1, 2022.

Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health is weighing whether to submit a formal request for federal aid amid an alarming rise in COVID-19 cases that has a beleaguered staff exhausted.

“The staff is overwhelmed, tired and frustrated,” Dr. Michael Ripchinski, LG Health chief clinical officer, said Monday.

Part of the calculation, Ripchinski said, is understanding that the federal help is only a Band-Aid.

But, Ripchinski added, “Over the next two weeks it will really be a critical time for all of us.”

Ripchinski and others have pointed to the rise in cases following holiday get-togethers.

There were 126 COVID-19 patients at Lancaster General Hospital on Wednesday, according to LG Health. Twenty-three, or 18%, of the patients were in the hospital’s intensive care unit, while 19, or 15%, were on ventilators. There have been 560 COVID-19-related deaths at LGH, or 39% of the county’s 1,431 deaths attributed to the coronavirus.

Lancaster County’s seven-day COVID-19 case average continues to increase at alarming levels. The rate of new cases reached nearly 877 cases per day as of Monday, according to state Department of Health data. Before the most recent surge, the pandemic peak was about 429 cases per day in December 2020.

Last week, WellSpan Health submitted a request to the Lancaster County Emergency Management agency for a federal strike team to provide staffing support at WellSpan Ephrata Community Hospital in Ephrata Borough. Ephrata Community had 31 COVID-19 patients on Tuesday, the health system’s dashboard shows.

Only the health system’s York hospital was granted a deployment for staffing support. On Tuesday, WellSpan York Hospital had 210 COVID-19 patients receiving treatment.

According to Christopher Krichten, director of emergency management for WellSpan Health, Lancaster County was “unable to support” to help the health system with life-saving and incident stabilization, documents received in a Right-to-Know request show.

A 23-person Federal Emergency Management Agency team reported for clinical duties Monday at WellSpan York Hospital. The team consists of physicians, nurses, respiratory technicians, among others, who will work with WellSpan health care professionals “to face the challenges this crisis is bringing,” according to a statement.

The federal deployment, which is being coordinated by the Pennsylvania National Guard, gives the health system flexibility to redeploy its resources.

“It’s an all-hands-on-deck approach that allows us to share resources and staff across the six counties that we serve,” Ryan Coyle, a WellSpan spokesperson, said in an email to LNP | LancasterOnline.

While Coyle was short on details about the daily juggle, he did say physicians and nurses in the health system’s physician offices have been “helping at our testing sites and taking shifts in our hospitals during these surges."

On Dec. 15, Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration outlined key areas for hospital support during the pandemic, with a particular focus on rural Pennsylvania. The federal teams are an effort to increase acute-care capacity for COVID-19 patients.

To date, only two strike teams have been announced. The second is at Regional Hospital of Scranton.

It’s unclear whether Penn State Health or UPMC Lititz intend to take advantage of the federal aid. Neither health system responded to an inquiry by LNP | LancasterOnline.

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