UPMC Lock Haven is downsizing to an outpatient emergency department, the first in Pa.
UPMC Lock Haven will be converted to a new model only recently approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Health, but the plan has local residents concerned about their care.
UPMC Lock Haven announced in January it will no longer offer in-patient services, stripping the facility down to only an outpatient emergency department and moving some employees to positions in other UPMC facilities throughout the region.
Patti Jackson-Gehris is the president of UPMC in North Central Pennsylvania. She said the changes come from realizations that outpatient care is a much bigger need in the community.
“While we continue to see a decrease in the number of people needing inpatient care at that community hospital, we saw a tremendous increase in them using outpatient services, ambulatory care services, telemedicine physician practices, and emergency care," Jackson-Gehris said.
But Joel Long, the Mayor of Lock Haven, is concerned about the loss of the hospital and said the community itself was not involved in this decision.
“They didn’t contact us ahead of time, they didn’t bring us into any discussions about it. We just found out that they were making the changes via the press release," Long said.
Long said he’s worried about the effect it will have on the residents of Lock Haven who are used to having a hospital close by.
“Losing the hospital is a major change after having one for I’m sure more than 100 years," Long said. "It makes a difference.”
Lock Haven residents who need to be hospitalized will now have to travel for in-patient care. The closest options are Geisinger Jersey Shore Hospital or UPMC Williamsport, which are 20 and 35-minutes away, respectively. The Lock Haven emergency department will be licensed to UPMC Williamsport.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health says it created the outpatient emergency department option because more than 120 rural hospitals have closed across the country since 2010. And 22% of Pennsylvania's rural hospitals are considered “vulnerable” to closures.
Shayann Ramedani is the lead author of a Penn State study about the effects of rural hospital closures. He said the movement of people and jobs to more urban areas means that rural communities are often being forgotten about, and thus their essential resources are taken away.
“Now that all of the jobs have gone away to the urban areas, there isn’t as much resource allotment and as much money in investment placed in these communities," Ramedani said. "As a result, you have this slow stripping away of a lot of the things that are vital to living in the community: so hospitals, grocery stores, basic resources.”
He said people often don’t realize the large impact hospital closures have on rural communities.
“The downstream implication becomes, health in the communities starts to deteriorate because you have to be sent off to these external hospitals number one," Ramedani said. "That's a really, really tough load to bear.”
When this happens, many residents become concerned about their care and where they can go if they need help.
“With communities like Lock Haven, like Sunbury, within hospital closures, that takes away the security of a community," Ramedani said.
The hospital closing also impacts what the report calls “bystander hospitals,” or those within a 30-mile radius of the closed facility. Ramedani’s study found when rural hospitals close, average visits and admissions for nearby hospitals increase. That can strain nearby facilities and could potentially cause more closures.
“This ripple effect is really dangerous because we’re already at critical capacity for a lot of these critical access hospitals and smaller rural hospitals," Ramedani said.
But Jackson-Gehris said that this new model is the best option for the Lock Haven community. She hopes it will allow UPMC Lock Haven to become a guide for other hospitals, especially those in rural areas.
“We want to set a standard in the state of Pennsylvania for this new innovative model and this is how we can continue to have services in these rural communities that we all live in and that we’re all part of," Jackson-Gehris said.
The new outpatient emergency department will open on April 20 and will be staffed 24/7 by a team of physicians and nurses. UPMC specialists will also continue to offer outpatient services for foot and ankle, and pain management. The changes do not impact Haven Place, a facility that cares for patients with Alzheimer's and dementia, which is also located on the hospital campus.