Expert says Penn State Hershey says is overcrowded, needs to merge

Written by Ben Allen, General Assignment Reporter | Apr 14, 2016 6:20 PM

(Harrisburg) -- A federal case that will shape the future of health care in the midstate is nearing a conclusion.

Patient overcrowding at Penn State Health's Hershey Medical Center dominated discussion at the latest hearing.

In testimony Thursday, the Chief Nursing Officer for Penn State Health compared the situation to airplanes circling the runway, waiting to land.

Only in this case, Sherry Kwater says its staff looking for a place to put a patient.

She says the hospital's occupancy rate should be around 80 percent, but sometimes it reaches a hundred percent or higher.

Penn State Health wants to merge with PinnacleHealth, but the Federal Trade Commission and state Attorney General's office are asking a federal judge to block the deal.

Lawyers and experts for Penn State Health have insisted throughout the court hearing that if it doesn't merge with Pinnacle, it will have to build a $277 million tower with patient beds to ease the space crunch.

That could mean higher health care costs.

But government lawyers questioned whether Penn State has done everything it can to reduce crowding at the hospital.

They argued it could avoid the need for a tower by diverting patients to other hospitals if it was facing a bed shortage.

Testimony is expected to wrap up today, with a decision sometime in June.

If the merger is allowed, it would create a new $2.7 billion health care system.


Inside the chambers

A lawyer for the Federal Trade Commission, Attorney Jared Nagley, appeared to nearly faint in the courtroom while cross-examining an expert in the case. One minute, Nagley was asking questions, and then he suddenly asked the judge for a word before trying to get to the bench, but an expert had to almost catch him and stabilize him.

Lawyers quickly got him out of the courtroom and into a place where he could catch his breath. After a short break, cross-examination by Nagley resumed.

For a more lighthearted moment, here's this scene:
A lawyer said he'd like to enter a document into court as an exhibit (basically enter it into the record).

Judge John Jones III: "I don't have it."


Judge John Jones III: "I'm happy to look at one less exhibit."

Laughter in the courtroom

Expert: "Me too."

More laughter.

Judge John Jones III: "Not as much as I am."

Uproarious laughter.

Dave Black, President and CEO of the Harrisburg Regional Chamber and CREDC, testified, briefly, in favor of the merger. Black said he thought it would be good for the region and that none of the Chamber's board members voted against it. But when asked if a health care economist provided any information about the merger to help inform the Board, he said no.

And finally, Judge John Jones III is said to be very pleasant and easygoing by those who deal with him. And he has been remarkebly laid back throughout this week's proceeedings. But at one point, after a government lawyer was pressing an issue in question after question, Jones interrupted him, saying "I get it, move on."

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