So when can you safely go back to your doctor? Hospitals, Wolf admin. working on guidelines | Thursday Morning Coffee

April 23, 2020 7:06 am

Good Thursday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

Despite the geysers of cash flowing from Washington and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania’s hospital industry says it’s still bracing for a major financial hit from the COVID-19 pandemic — somewhere in the neighborhood of as much as $7.1 billion in 2020 alone, according to one industry expert.

By far the biggest hit to hospitals’ bottom lines has come from the closing of clinics and the cancelation of elective surgeries that contribute the biggest share of their revenue.

Nationwide, doctors whose practices are attached to hospitals have temporarily closed their offices and furloughed employees to stem losses as they’ve been directed by state health officials to stop performing elective tests and procedures.

So as America’s governors start talking about life beyond the pandemic, and some, such as Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, start laying out plans for phased re-openings of their states, hospital officials say they, too, are looking for ways to restart their own businesses in a way that makes both economic and public health sense.

In other words: When can Americans start safely going back to their doctor’s office?

“We’re in conversations with the governor and the Department of Health to reestablish non-emergency procedures that can take place in a safe environment,” Andy Carter, the CEO of the Pennsylvania Hospital and Health System Association, said during a Wednesday press call. “I know the governor’s office is eager to establish guidelines. We expect hospitals and health systems will resume services by taking a staggered approach.”

Pa. Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine briefs journalists on Saturday 4/18/20 (Screen Capture)

During a Wednesday night press briefing, state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine confirmed that those discussions were taking place, saying that some of those non-emergency procedures were necessary for compelling health reasons.

“We are coming up with guidance using [the industry’s] information and information we’ve obtained nationally, to allow people to get the non-emergent procedures they need,” Levine said.

Jeff Wirick, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Medical Society, said the physicians’ trade group was not involved in the talks on those emerging guidelines. And while doctors are eager to get back to work, any “proposal must use data to protect patients and providers,” he said,

And any reopening plan “should also address the needs of our many independent practices. For example, some practices tell us that they are still unable to get enough PPEs,” Wirick said.

Speaking to journalists Wednesday, HAP’s Carter said it will be up to individual hospitals to make the call on when to start offering non-emergency services, and those decisions “will be made in concert with public health services.”

But it might not be as easy as flipping a switch. Carter acknowledged Wednesday that hospitals will need to assuage patients’ concerns that they can safely access those services.

“It will take time to not only ramp up the clinical capacity of these hospitals, it also will take time to show the safeguards are in place so they can get care without risk of COVID-19 exposure,” Carter said. “Until [hospitals] are ready, and their teams feel safe, they won’t resume services. They will be communicating with communities ….  to address fears that are holding patients back from getting the care they need.”

On Wednesday night, Gov. Tom Wolf and Levine offered more information on the phased re-opening of the state, saying it would be based on, among other things, data showing a steady, per-capita reduction of cases in counties across the state. Counties would be moved from red, to yellow, to green phases as safety increased.

And “when we are able to do that, people who go to a hospital for other purposes,” can be confident they “will be safe,” Levine said.

The Pennsylvania Capitol building. (Capital-Star photo by Sarah Anne Hughes)

Our Stuff.
Elizabeth Hardison
 leads our coverage this morning with an in-depth look at what it will really take for Pennsylvania to ramp up the contact tracing system that’s needed to protect against a resurgence of the COVID-19 pandemic.

During a Wednesday night briefing, Gov. Tom Wolf and state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine laid out the next steps for reopening Pennsylvania, starting with northwestern and north-central Pennsylvania on May 8. Pittsburgh Correspondent Kim Lyons has the story.

State lawmakers are worried that limited workplace protections and packaging woes could stress food suppliesStephen Caruso reports.

On our Commentary Page this morning, veteran activist Eric Epstein says that if the Legislature is really serious about stemming economic losses from the pandemic, it can start by liquidating its massive surpluses and then funnel the money into relief efforts. And opinion regular John A. Tures takes a look at the lessons that social distancing taught during the 1918 flu pandemic.

(Image via

Philadelphia has delayed its plastic bag ban until January because of the pandemic, the Inquirer reports.
Members of Pittsburgh’s LGBTQ community are professing outrage after discovering two city nightclub owners were part of the anti-lockdown protest in the city earlier this week, Pittsburgh City Paper reports.
A 31-year-old casino dealer from the Lehigh Valley is one of the state’s most recent COVID-19 fatalities. The Morning Call has the story.
Amid complaints from county coroners, the Wolf administration is defending the way it counts COVID-19 deathsPennLive reports.

Here’s your #Pennsylvania Instagram of the Day:

Pedestrian deaths are on the rise in Philadelphia, WHYY-FM reports.
Politico considers whether the pandemic will put an end to cash bail. 
A government scientist has claimed he was demoted for opposing President Donald Trump’s fave anti-COVID-19 drug, Talking Point Memo reports.

What Goes On.
Time TBD: Daily COVID-19 briefing.

Heavy Rotation.
Here’s an old school classic from Nate Dogg and Warren G. It’s ‘Regulate.’ Like the song says,‘You can’t be any geek off the street …’ but in this town, it doesn’t hurt.

Thursday’s Gratuitous Baseball Link. 
You can test your knowledge with this quiz on, starting with this: Who is the most recent player to join the 500 HR Club?

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek
John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.