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York County hospitals preparing for potential staff shortage

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch

Pennsylvania's hospitals, including those in York County, are not yet dealing with staff shortages as a result of the novel coronavirus outbreak, but preparations are underway to ensure it stays that way.

Gov. Tom Wolf announced last week that retired Pennsylvania health care workers may apply for reactivation of their licenses so they can return to work to help with the COVID-19 response.

"We are being proactive about the potential need for more staff in the future, so we are taking those steps of reaching out to retired physicians and nurses," said Ryan Coyle, spokesman for WellSpan Health, which owns York Hospital.

WellSpan has put some employees on paid furlough because of potential exposure to the virus, Coyle said, but York Hospital still has enough staff to care for patients at this time.

UPMC Pinnacle, which operates Memorial Hospital in West Manchester Township and Hanover Hospital in Hanover, is also reaching out to recently retired staff in case they're needed to return to work, said spokeswoman Kelly McCall.

Ann Elliott, R.N., left, and clinical operations coordinator and patient safety officer Jennifer Strayer work together at the drive up COVID-19 coronavirus testing site at WellSpan Family Medicine - Cape Horn in Windsor Township, Tuesday, March 17, 2020. Candidates must be directed to the facility for testing by a physician prior to arrival. Dawn J. Sagert photo

As of Monday, Pennsylvania had 4,087 cases of COVID-19, and 48 deaths have been attributed to the respiratory illness, according to the state Department of Health.

The state Department of Health has not received any reports of hospitals without enough staff to respond to the virus outbreak, which is all the more reason to continue practicing social distancing, said spokesman Nate Wardle.

"We need to assist our doctors, our nurses, our EMS providers and our first responders by staying at home and taking proactive steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19," Wardle said in an email.

Another idea for supplementing health care providers during the crisis is recruiting nursing students.

WellSpan already employs several area nursing students as nursing assistants, Coyle said, and that program was in place before the COVID-19 outbreak.

Those nursing assistants will provide the same care to their patients, including those with COVID-19, as they did before the outbreak, he said.

But at UPMC's hospitals, nursing students will not be permitted to work on medical teams caring for COVID-19 patients, McCall said.

Students who are in the middle of clinical practice will be reassigned if their current placement requires caring for a COVID-19 patient, she said.

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