Editor's Notes

One of the things that impressed my wife and me when we first moved to the Valley about five and a half years ago was the quality of available nearby health care.

With Evangelical Community Hospital in Lewisburg, Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, and, at the time, Sunbury Community Hospital just down the road from The Daily Item office, we felt we were surrounded by quality health care options.

We still do, even though Sunbury’s hospital is now gone.

When I tore the tendon above my right knee in a fall while visiting China in 2017, I came home to terrific treatment from the professionals at Sun Orthopaedics and Evangelical for my surgery and at RiverWoods Nursing Care Center in Lewisburg for my short rehabilitation stint.

From our primary care physician to our dentist, oral surgeons, eye doctors, and chiropractors, we have consistently found outstanding medical professionals.

But we’ve also experienced some long waits to get appointments with specialists and difficulty sometimes finding providers who accept our health care plans.

These and other challenges are growing and require attention.

Starting today and continuing through Wednesday, The Daily Item, in partnership with CNHI Pennsylvania newsrooms in Johnstown, Sharon, Meadville, and New Castle, along with those in Cumberland, Maryland, and Ashtabula, Ohio, will present an in-depth look at health care issues and strategies in rural markets such as ours.

The COVID-19 pandemic has clearly brought new focus to all the challenges facing Pennsylvania’s rural health care providers.

But the many challenges facing health care and hospitals were becoming clear long before COVID-19 became our most pressing health concern.

Those challenges included recruiting and keeping enough physicians and specialists; the age and health of many rural area residents; the lack of broadband in many parts of the Valley and state that limits the effectiveness of developing telemedicine, and the limited transportation options that make it hard for some to actually get to the doctor or hospital.

As Dr. David Lopatofsky, chief medical officer for UPMC Susquehanna in Williamsport says in our lead story today, “It’s certainly an issue where people need it the most have the least amount of access.”

Three hospitals in Pennsylvania have shut down since 2012, including our own Sunbury Community Hospital in December 2019. More are at risk of closing.

Our reporting also found that nearly half of the existing hospitals that reported losing money in 2019 were located in rural areas. 

As far as broadband goes, we found data that quantified what many of us already know — that inadequate internet speed to handle telemedicine needs is a huge problem.

The data our reporters examined showed that internet speeds in 18 rural counties statewide didn’t meet the federal standards for broadband.

Our series will look at these and other concerns. It will also examine solutions that are in the works, including collaboration among providers, new technologies that will make remote patient-doctor visits more viable, and preventative care initiatives aimed at reducing instances of critical care.

We began this report with a roundtable of statewide medical professionals, who helped us steer our reporting. A video highlighting that discussion is available on our website as part of this special report.

We hope you will find this reporting valuable and look forward to your responses to it.

Email comments to dlyons@dailyitem.com.

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