Lancaster Physician Winter 2021 - 31

WINTER 2021

T

here is no question that 2020 was
a year like no other. A global pandemic that no one saw coming had
by mid-December killed 314,000
Americans and 1.65 million worldwide, while
also causing a global recession and job losses
for millions of workers. For some, the loss of
a job also meant the loss of health insurance,
just as the Trump administration and a group
of Republican state attorney generals argued
that the Affordable Care Act should be declared
unconstitutional and abolished. The Supreme
Court has since signaled support for the law.
Millions of Americans took to the streets in
protest of police shootings and racial injustice.
We endured a divisive election cycle, then
witnessed unprecedented voter turnout to elect
a new U.S. President and our first female vice
president. Along with those events we watched
as 29 named hurricanes wreaked havoc in
the Atlantic, with six making landfall in the
United States, while wildfires raged along the
West Coast.
With the year like no other finally behind
us, we wanted to find out what Lancaster
County health care leaders are thinking about
for 2021. Lancaster Physician reached out and
asked what they are looking forward to, what
they will be happy to leave behind, and how
they expect 2021 to be different from 2020.
Representatives of Penn Medicine Lancaster
General Health, Penn State Health, and
UPMC Pinnacle responded.
BRIAN BURGESS,
CHIEF STRATEGY OFFICER AT
PENN MEDICINE LANCASTER
GENERAL HEALTH
While Brian Burgess, Chief Strategy Officer
at Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health,
is optimistic that life will move closer to what
we think of as normal in 2021, he predicts the
pandemic will continue to affect policy and
practice in the field of health care.
Because much about the COVID-19
virus is still not understood, medical
researchers will need to continue to seek
answers to questions like why the virus
affects people so differently - clearing

up quickly in some while lingering for
months in others.
He shared a story of a patient, who, while
waiting for an appointment, was asked
whether he was experiencing any COVID-like
symptoms. The patient acknowledged having
shortness of breath and explained that he had
experienced COVID three or four months
earlier and had recovered, but the shortness
of breath remained and was severe enough
that he depended on supplemental oxygen.
" That's the type of thing we don't yet fully
understand about COVID-19, " Burgess
said. " There will need to be more research
to try to understand the implications of
what we're experiencing. "
Burgess predicts that virtual health care,
which exploded as COVID spread, will maintain the vital role it now plays. Telemedicine
is not simply a substitute for in-person care,
he said, but in some instances, superior. It
is particularly useful in managing chronic
conditions, for routine check-ups, and for
mental health care.
" In many instances, patients prefer telehealth, " Burgess said. " It's a great option for
people who have to travel long distances to
see a provider, or who would rather not have
to leave home to get care. "
It is unclear, however, whether insurance
companies will continue to reimburse providers
for virtual care at the same rate as in-person
services, as has been the practice since the
pandemic began.
" That's a policy decision that we'll just have
to wait on, " he said. " We'll see whether payment
goes back to being higher for in-person care. "
In addition to changing how patients are
treated, telemedicine has led those in the
medical field to re-examine use of space.
" If we have a long-term adoption of telemedicine, your longer-term need for office
space could decrease, " Burgess said. " That's
something we'll be looking at in the future. "

He believes in light of COVID it could be
advantageous for planners to rethink the size
of health care facilities.
" It will be interesting to see how we consider
capacity moving forward, " Burgess said.
While the future of the Affordable Care Act
appears to be secure under the Biden administration, Burgess believes that gaps in access to
health care in America should be addressed.
Millions of people lost their health insurance
along with their jobs in 2020, he noted, just
when it was most needed.
" It's an irony that during a pandemic so
many lost their jobs and their insurance, "
Burgess said.
Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health is
looking forward in 2021 to the continuation
of two major projects. Work to double the size
of the hospital's emergency department (ED)
was temporarily paused due to the pandemic
but has now resumed.
Lancaster General Hospital (LGH) became
the only emergency care provider in Lancaster
City when UPMC Pinnacle Lancaster's emergency facility closed in early 2019. Designed to
serve 90,000 patients a year, LGH's emergency
department saw more than 113,000 visits in
fiscal year 2020.
The first phase of the $182.5 million project
is an expansion that is expected to be completed
in summer 2022. This will be followed by a
renovation of the existing ED space, which
will open roughly 18 months later. Burgess
noted that while the ambitious project affects
many other departments and is logistically
challenging, it will result in great benefit to
residents of Lancaster City and County.
Also underway is an addition to the Penn
Medicine Lancaster General Health Ann B.
Barshinger Cancer Institute that will house
the first and only proton therapy center in
Central Pennsylvania. That project is expected
to be completed by early 2022. Burgess also
predicted the addition of some medical centers
and clinics in 2021.
Continued on page 32

LANCASTER

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Lancaster Physician Winter 2021

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