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Closing at UPMC hospital in central Pa. surprises, worries mayor of rural town

PennLive.com 1/20/2023 David Wenner, pennlive.com

UPMC said Friday it will eliminate regular hospital beds at UPMC Lock Haven Hospital, but will continue providing emergency care at the location under new Pennsylvania rules intended to spur innovation and preserve access that might otherwise be lost.

The 25-bed hospital in rural Clinton County will become a new type of facility called an “outpatient emergency department” that was recently approved by the state health department.

“As an organization, we must emphasize innovation and quality. In health care, one size does not fit all, and models of care that are effective for larger, urban hospitals are not necessarily effective for a smaller, rural hospital like UPMC Lock Haven,” Patti Jackson-Gehris, the president of UPMC in north central Pa., said in a news release.

UPMC said the number of patients being admitted to Lock Haven Hospital has been “very low for a long time.”

However, Joel Long, the mayor of Lock Haven and a long-time elected official there, said he only learned of the closing after UPMC announced it on Friday morning.

He called the prospect of losing a traditional community hospital “scary.”

“God forbid we have another pandemic and need all the beds we can possibly get,” he said. “It’s going to be a big transition.”

UPMC plans to complete the conversion by April 20.

Long said the closest options for local residents who need to be hospitalized will be Geisinger Jersey Shore Hospital, about a 20-minute drive, or UPMC Williamsport, about 30 minutes away.

The Lock Haven hospital campus also includes Haven Place, which offers care for seniors including skilled nursing and Alzheimer’s and dementia care. UPMC said Haven Place will remain, as will outpatient services for foot and ankle and pain management.

UPMC further said it will “retain and incorporate 100% of Lock Haven employees,” with the employees remaining in roles at the Lock Haven campus or shifting to other UPMC jobs in the region.

Long noted that any employees moved outside the city limits will mean a loss of tax revenue for Lock Haven.

Lock Haven, about 110 miles northwest of Harrisburg, has about 9,000 residents. It’s the county seat of Clinton County, which has about 37,000 residents.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health, which licenses and regulates hospitals, recently revised its regulations to allow and encourage new methods and technology, especially when it can preserve or enable access to care in areas where traditional care is threatened.

This includes “micro-hospitals,” emergency rooms that lack on-site physicians and provide access via telemedicine, and “outpatient emergency departments” such as the one being established at Lock Haven.

The department said it’s allowing such options because more than 100 rural hospitals have closed in the United States since 2010, with hundreds more considered “vulnerable,” including 22% of Pennsylvania’s rural hospitals.

Under the old rules, operating an emergency department required providing traditional hospital care at the same location.

Jackson-Gehris said the new options “gave us a unique opportunity to explore and support the most effective and efficient delivery of emergency care in this rural area where inpatient hospital admissions have been very low for a long time. Local and national trends also show an exponential increase in patient preference for outpatient services.”

“We are pleased to announce this plan and we are confident that this is the best model of care to meet the needs of this community,” she said.

Lock Haven Hospital was built decades ago with local donations and long operated as a non-profit. It was sold to a for-profit operator before UPMC bought it for $5.2 million in 2017, according to the news release. UPMC said it put more than $4 million into the hospital.

UPMC Lock Haven had an operating margin of minus-4.14% in the fiscal year ending in 2021, meaning it lost $4.14 for every $100 it was paid for providing medical care, according to data from the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council.

The average hospital in Pennsylvania earned $7.91 for every $100 it was paid.

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