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WellSpan Health teams with Emerus to build 3 micro hospitals in Pennsylvania

Source: Chief Healthcare Executive

The system hopes the facilities will be open within 18-24 months. WellSpan says if these prove to be successful, it could look to add more small hospitals.

WellSpan Health sees good things in small packages.

The health system is partnering with Emerus to build three “micro hospitals” in central Pennsylvania. Emerus, the first and biggest operator of micro hospitals, has worked with Allegheny Health Network, Baptist Health, Dignity Health and others.

WellSpan is planning to build two hospitals in York County and one in Cumberland County. Both counties are just outside Harrisburg, Pennsylvania’s capital. The system chose those counties because they are projected to see more growth, says Anthony Aquilina, WellSpan Health’s executive vice president and chief physician executive.

“We worked with Emerus to look at market information and see where the needs and the opportunity was great,” Aquilina told Chief Healthcare Executive® in an interview Thursday.

“This gives us the ability to provide what we think our patients are asking for the most, which is efficient access to emergency care, closer,” he adds.

WellSpan hopes to open the three hospitals within 18 to 24 months. The system hasn’t announced the precise location of the facilities yet, but WellSpan is aiming to break ground before the end of the year.

The system is describing the facilities as “neighborhood hospitals.”

“They are truly small hospitals,” Aquilina says.

The hospitals will have emergency departments and about 10 inpatient beds, he says. They will be open 24 hours a day, but the facilities won’t have operating rooms or intensive care units.

They are designed to provide care for patients with less serious illness or health conditions, Aquilina says. Patients at the emergency department of a neighborhood hospital requiring more care will be transferred to WellSpan’s flagship hospital in York, Pa.

The micro hospitals will be within about 20 minutes of the York hospital. WellSpan operates eight hospitals and a host of other clinics and sites of care serving central Pennsylvania and northern Maryland.

“The strategy really is that we want to improve access to 24 hour-a-day, seven-days-a-week emergency care for communities that are on the periphery of our markets, but that can still be connected to our health system,” Aquilina says. “And so this model of care really fits the bill. It is focused on patient-centered care, efficient care for emergency services.”

WellSpan chose Emerus because of the company’s experience in establishing micro hospitals. Emerus has set up 39 small hospitals around the country, serving more than 3 million patients.

“They are aligned with us, their quality, vision and their patient experience focus,” Aquilina says. “So they turned out to be the perfect partner for us in this kind of shared vision of adding this model to the continuum of care.”

Vic Schmerbeck, chief executive officer of Emerus, said in a statement that Emerus is excited about offering “high-quality, convenient care” in central Pennsylvania.

“Our shared vision, complemented by Emerus’ unique neighborhood hospital concept, will produce an extraordinary patient experience that Pennsylvanians deserve,” Schmerbeck said in a statement.

If these first three neighborhood hospitals prove to be successful, WellSpan would consider opening other micro hospitals, Aquilina says. With Emerus’ experience in micro hospitals, Aquilina says “we have the competency” to build others.

“We’re going to start with these three,” he says. “If they are as beneficial to the communities as we think they will be, we can always expand more.”

WellSpan projects the neighborhood hospitals will require less than 100 employees at each facility. Still, hospitals and health systems around the country have struggled to fill positions, including nursing openings and positions for other healthcare workers.

“It’s a unique opportunity that some people may find very attractive, being able to work in a smaller environment,” Aquilina says.

WellSpan Health has also been running a hospital-at-home program since September 2020, and WellSpan, like other hospitals, has moved to offer acute care and other services in the home.

WellSpan remains “fully committed” to the home hospital program, Aquilina says, but the micro hospitals offer another care option.

“The neighborhood hospital is really an access point for emergency care,” he says. “And the vast majority of patients that present to one of these neighboring hospitals are able to be cared for either in the emergency alone or in the emergency room plus the small inpatient unit.”

The neighborhood hospitals represent another effort to meet people where they are,” Roxanna Gapstur, WellSpan president and CEO, said in a statement.

“As WellSpan continues to reimagine the face of healthcare, we recognize that it cannot always be a one-size-fits-all approach,” Gapstur said.

Aquilina says patients who need to go to the emergency department are going to relish the idea of having a closer option that may not be as packed as WellSpan’s flagship hospital in York.

“Through the pandemic, emergency rooms got very busy with very sick people,” Aquilina says. “And so people are sometimes afraid or hesitant to go to the emergency room and to get that emergency level care that they need.”

WellSpan Health also broke ground on an outpatient surgical center in Lancaster County Thursday afternoon. The two-story surgical center is expected to open in the summer of 2024.