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Pa. hospitals on the brink of a staffing crisis


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA
Your Postmaster: Sarah Anne Hughes
December 4, 2020
Short on staff, mail-in voting law redux, making nice in the Capitol, nature is scary, nature is cool, and standing in the vaccine line. Happy Friday, friends.

COVID-19 is surging across the state, and some hospitals are facing a crisis.

At least a third of hospitals in southwest and south-central Pennsylvania expect staffing shortages in the next week, state data shows. Still, officials are leaving decisions about how to handle such dilemmas up to health-care systems, Spotlight PA reports.

They expect providers in different regions to work together and, if necessary, share resources like equipment, supplies, staff and beds

But should that collaboration fail to appear, hospitals big and small aren’t likely to receive reinforcements from the state.

THE CONTEXT: Pennsylvania shattered its previous record for daily COVID-19 cases Thursday, reporting more than 11,400 new infections statewide.

That's concerning news for hospitals, not because they're necessarily running out of beds, but because there aren't enough trained health-care workers to take care of the people in them.

The state is requiring hospitals to cut elective procedures in half if they meet certain criteria, like a lack of staff. Should the worst happen, and cases continue to surge past staffing capacity, the state has very limited resources to offer.

Multiple Pennsylvania National Guard teams are currently deployed in long-term care facilities and are not available to assist hospitals, Health Secretary Rachel Levine said Thursday. 

“They can't be in two places at once,” she said. “So right now, that's their mission."


"This is a national problem embedded in a lot of affiliates. We're one example of a larger problem.”

— Aspen Christian, a digital organizer with Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates, on widespread racism and transphobia within the lobbying and political organization. Its executive director, Emily Callen, resigned this week.

POST IT: A great shot of November along Yellow Breeches Creek in Mechanicsburg. Thanks, Karen A., for the submission! Send us your hidden gems, use the hashtag #PAGems, or tag us on Instagram at @spotlightpennsylvania.
LESSONS LEARNED: When Pennsylvania lawmakers updated the Election Code in 2019 — allowing no-excuse mail voting for the first time — they had no idea what 2020 would bring: a pandemic, record voter turnout, and a sustained attack on the voting process. Spotlight PA and Votebeat found the changes were largely successful, though these extenuating circumstances did magnify gaps in the law

WHY CAN'T WE BE FRIENDS? In the hyper-partisan Capitol building, one Democrat and one Republican are embarking on a radical experiment: trying to get legislators from different parties to work together. PennLive reports that Reps. Greg Rothman (R., Cumberland) and Stephen Kinsey (D., Philadelphia) have launched a bipartisan caucus "to improve civility in the legislature." 

'HE WAS PETRIFIED': A Philadelphia mother who was beaten by police and violently separated from her two-year-old son told The Inquirer she wants justice for herself, her child, and her nephew who was also brutalized. Rickia Young's trauma was compounded when the national Fraternal Order of Police shared an image of her son with an officer, falsely claiming he had been wandering around a protest site without shoes. 

CLASS ACTION SETTLEMENT: Bucks County will pay more than $10 million to thousands of former inmates who said an online "Lookup Tool" that featured mugshots and arrest information violated their privacy. The Bucks County Courier Times reports that a jury previously awarded the plaintiffs $68 million.

NEGATIVE: Sen. David Argall, the chair of the GOP policy committee that held a largely maskless hearing on unsubstantiated claims of election fraud, has tested negative for COVID-19, the Reading Eagle reports. Argall did not wear a mask when he sat next to the meeting's organizer, Sen. Doug Mastriano, who tested positive later that day at the White House.
» WE NEED YOU NOW: Help us keep Harrisburg honest in 2021 by becoming a member now. As an added bonus, contribute $15/month or $180/year and get this exclusive tote bag. We only have 27 left, so don't wait!
MAKING HISTORY: Tyler Titus made history in 2017 when they won a seat on the Erie School Board and became the first openly transgender person to be elected to public office in Pennsylvania. Now, they've been unanimously selected to lead the panel.

WHAT ELSE YOU GOT, 2020? Between the pandemic, never-ending election, and other assorted disasters, what else can 2020 bring? Well, if you live in Marietta — a Susquehanna River town in Lancaster County — the answer is black vultures that are destroying property and generally terrorizing residents

BESTING THE PESTS: In actually good nature news, scientists believe they've found the key to stopping woolly adelgids from killing the state's beloved hemlocks: silver flies. Invasive adelgids have killed millions of these trees up and down the East Coast, including many in my mom's backyard, so this is personal. 

TWINKLE TWINKLE: Crowded Christmas tree lightings are, for obvious reasons, a no-go this year, but you can still check out some of the state's best light displays while maintaining distance or even staying in your vehicle. Or, if this Very Scientific Study is to be believed, you'll probably be able to find an extreme display in your own neighborhood: 69% of Pennsylvanians plan to go full Griswold with their holiday decorations

MAILBAG: Speaking of which, do you have an awesome holiday light display? We want to see it! Share it with us and we might feature it here.

NO CUTS: The New York Times has made this handy tool to estimate how you would be prioritized for a COVID-19 vaccine. It factors in location, age, occupation, and potential health risks. That puts your Central Pennsylvania-based newsletter writer behind ... 268.7 million people in the U.S.
Unscramble and send your answer to scrambler@spotlightpa.org. We'll shout out the winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag. Love the scrambler? Make a donation to help us end 2020 strong.

Yesterday's answer: Cheesecake

Congrats to our daily winners: John H., Bob R., Dennis and Rose E., Susan D., John C., Gail H., Mary Ellen T., Patricia M., Dan E., Kathleen M., Thomas B., Steve D., Theodore W., Karen A., Jessica K., Barbara Z., Lynne E., Kim C., Heidi B., Patricia R., Jarrod B., Deb N., Beth T., Craig W., Tracey C., Rick K., David I., Jill A-S., Bill C., Keith F., Tish M., Doug W., Joel S., Chris W., Irene R., Dianne K., Jessica M., Ron P., Lance L., David W., and Carol D. 
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