Wolf Levine Lancaster EMS

Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine speaks at the Lancaster EMS station, 100 E. Charlotte St., Millersville, in this file photo taken Thursday, July 30, 2020. Levine and Gov. Tom Wolf visited the station to talk about COVID-19.

Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said Thursday that the Keystone Health Care Coalition — a collaboration of organizations that covers a region including Lancaster County — is reporting an expected staffing shortage in its hospitals within the next week.

Under Levine’s order, regions that meet two of three thresholds, which include one for staffing levels, are to reduce their elective procedures by 50% throughout the region for one week.

“We don’t want people to avoid medical care if they need it,” Levine said in a news conference. “What the hospitals are going to have to do is balance their resources.”

At least two of the health care systems in Lancaster County have taken steps to enhance capacity.

“Our teams continuously evaluate the status of our daily operations and consider actions to enhance capacity, in concert with similar efforts throughout the six-hospital Penn Medicine system,” Mary Ann Eckard, a Penn Medicine Lancaster General Hospital spokeswoman, said in an email to LNP | LancasterOnline.

The state created health care coalitions as a way of forming public and private partnerships across a region to respond to and recover from an emergency or catastrophic event. Keystone Health Care Coalition encompasses Adams, Bedford, Blair, Centre, Cumberland, Dauphin, Franklin, Fulton, Huntingdon, Juniata, Lancaster, Lebanon, Mifflin, Perry, Snyder and York counties. The other two metrics that can trigger a forced reduction in nonemergent procedures across a region relate to a greater than 50% average increase in COVID-19 admission over 48 hours and inadequate bed availability, determined at less than 10% in an upcoming 72 hours.

Only one other health care coalition — in the southwest region, which covers 13 counties that include Allegheny, Greene and Westmoreland — also reported expected staffing shortages.

Local preparations

Local health officials have all said that being a part of a health care system allows them to share patient load, staff and supplies. Lancaster General Hospital is temporarily reducing nonemergency surgeries that require hospitalization, evaluating potential transfers and strengthening its collaborations among departments. WellSpan Health, which operates eight hospitals in Pennsylvania including WellSpan Ephrata Community in Ephrata Borough, had taken a targeted approach, adjusting some surgeries and reducing some outpatient services. But with COVID patients accounting for a third of all admissions, those measures were insufficient to address the recent surge, Ryan Coyle, a WellSpan spokesman said.

“That’s why this week, we concluded it was time to postpone some nonlifesaving elective surgeries and procedures in targeted locations across our regions and to redeploy staff from the surgery centers to our acute care hospitals,” Coyle said in an email.

The new actions include reducing the number of elective procedures at the Apple Hill Surgery Center in York and temporarily closing the Surgery Center near WellSpan Good Samaritan Hospital in Lebanon County. While Lancaster General Hospital and WellSpan Health have implemented a variety of measures to balance staffing to ensure beds will be available for COVID patients, UPMC Pinnacle is operating as normal.

“UPMC hospitals are providing all services, our Emergency Departments are open and we are prepared to care for all patients,” Kendall Marcocci, a spokeswoman for UPMC Pinnacle, which operates UPMC Lititz, said in an email.

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