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Medicine and Health

Pa. Hospitals Can Resume Elective Surgeries, But Recovering From Revenue Losses Will Take Time

Photo of the outside of the Penn Highlands DuBois hospital
Penn Highlands Healthcare
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The Penn Highlands Healthcare systems has five hospitals in rural Pennsylvania. It says it's resuming elective surgeries while continuing safety practices.

Penn Highlands Healthcare, a hospital chain which has five rural hospitals in DuBois, Brookville, Clearfield, Huntingdon and St. Marys, said it will resume elective surgeries Wednesday. The state announced on Monday that these procedures can go ahead as long as they don’t jeopardize the safety of hospital staff and patients. 

Mark Norman, Chief Operating Officer of Penn Highlands, said the facilities are safe.

“We also have adequate personal protective equipment to keep our staff and patients safe and we're open and ready to care for our patients,” Norman said during a conference call Tuesday. “Most importantly, this will enable us to give our communities the care they need. We're also hopeful that this will help us turn the corner in terms of bringing back our patient volumes.”

Elective surgeries have been on hold during the coronavirus outbreak, which has kept patients waiting and put financial pressure on hospitals. Norman said the healthcare system has seen a 35% decrease in overall patient volume since the outbreak began.

State Representative Kathy Rapp (R-Warren) chairs the House Majority Health Committee and said allowing elective surgeries to resume “makes all the difference” for hospitals. Rapp and her Republican colleagues had previously urged Secretary of Health Rachel Levine to lift the ban on elective surgeries.

Penn Highlands said it will continue safety practices like screening patients verbally, taking temperatures and keeping its COVID-19 unit separate from other departments.

There has been concern that people who are in need of medical care haven’t sought it out of fear of contracting COVID-19. 

“Many hospitals around the country are reporting that ER visits have been down as much as 50%,” said Penn Highlands’ Shaun Sheehan. 

The healthcare system urges patients to seek care especially if they have cardiac or respiratory issues.

“You have to get to the emergency department to be evaluated to see if you need the acute treatments,” Sheehan said. “They can't wait.”

Penn Highlands furloughed 600 staff earlier this month because of revenue losses from not doing elective surgeries. It’s projecting a 40% net revenue loss in April. 

The system said it may rehire some staff as patient volume increases, but it could take six to 12 months to reach pre-COVID-19 staffing levels. 

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