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Pa. hospital's revoked tax status a 'warning shot'

Plus, firings by lieutenant governor upset clemency advocates.

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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
Tuesday, March 14, 2023
Not exempt, let go, trial week, bank buyout, government secrecy, bird flu, punches thrown, prized pretzels, and Philly's next (not really) flag.

A state judge has revoked a Montgomery County hospital's property tax exemption, a decision that one expert said should serve as a "warning shot" for other nonprofit facilities across Pennsylvania.

Commonwealth Court Judge Christine Fizzano Cannon found that the nonprofit Tower Health system was operating a Pottstown hospital with the motive of profit. She also upheld rulings that three Chester County hospitals owned by Tower Health aren't eligible for property tax exemptions.

The decision was delivered in a case brought by the Pottstown School District, which said Tower Health's exemption cost its schools $900,000 a year. The ruling also comes with powerful and monied nonprofits sitting on billions of dollars worth of untaxed property in other Pennsylvania cities.

Read Spotlight PA's full report: A Pa. hospital's revoked property tax exemption is a 'warning shot' to other nonprofits, expert says.

THE CONTEXT: Of Pennsylvania's 148 general, medical, and surgical hospitals, 131 were nonprofits in 2021, according to the Department of Health. Several systems have agreed to make payments in lieu of taxes, or PILOTs, in order to avoid the risk of challenges to their nonprofit status.

But a push in Pittsburgh against UPMC, a $23 billion nonprofit, shows just how difficult it can be to force providers into such agreements.

UPMC owns $2.1 billion worth of tax-exempt property in Allegheny County and has reduced its tax liability by tens of millions of dollars through nonprofit property tax exemptions. Between 1973 and 2006, Pittsburgh recouped only 8% of the taxes lost to UPMC’s tax exemption through voluntary PILOTs, according to a report from the county and city’s controllers.

Mayor Ed Gainey launched a citywide review of tax-exempt property earlier this year to determine where that status should be challenged.


"They have patients coming in to get medication, and they can't have it."

—Ilisa Bernstein, of the American Pharmacists Association, on ADHD, pain, and addiction treatment shortages following a multibillion-dollar legal settlement between states like Pennsylvania and major opioid suppliers
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VITAL DATA: Join us during Sunshine Week on Thursday, March 16 from 6-7 p.m. on Zoom for a free panel on health care reporting in Pennsylvania, how we fight for open records, and your rights under the Right-to-Know Law. Register here and submit your questions to

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A fleeting winter flashback, via Kathy B. Send us your photos by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
Small branches covered in ice.
Today's top news story in Pennsylvania.OFF THE JOB: Lt. Gov. Austin Davis has fired two employees who were brought on by his predecessor, John Fetterman, and touted as success stories following their commutations for murder. PennLive (paywall) reports Davis isn't commenting on the firings of George Trudel, 56, and Naomi Blount Wilson, 72, but advocates are now questioning the Democrat's commitment to clemency. 

Today's second top news story in Pennsylvania.ON TRIAL: The sexual assault trial of suspended Somerset County DA Jeffrey Thomas continued Monday with expert testimony and additional questioning of the woman who says he assaulted her inside her Windber home. The defense has focused on prior communications between the two, while prosecutors played the jury a recording of Thomas apologizing and saying "this will never happen again."

Today's third top news story in Pennsylvania.RESCUE BUYER: Pittsburgh-based PNC Bank has decided it doesn't want to bid on the assets of Silicon Valley Bank, which failed last week, prompting a hasty search for rescue buyers. CNBC reports PNC sent a notice of interest to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. for a deal for SVB and held brief and preliminary discussions with the agency, but it backed out after conducting initial due diligence. 

Today's fourth top news story in Pennsylvania.SHINING A LIGHT: Spotlight PA's own editor-in-chief, Christopher Baxter, writes in a new column that government agencies across Pennsylvania still too often default to secrecy and fighting the public's right to access public information. This week is Sunshine Week, a time to raise awareness about the need for government transparency and accountability. You can support Spotlight PA's efforts here.

Today's fifth top news story in Pennsylvania.FARM AID: The Biden administration is weighing a plan to vaccinate millions of chickens against the bird flu, which has decimated poultry flocks in Pennsylvania — the hardest hit U.S. state. Lancaster Farming says the virus is also racking wild bird populations here. And while the virus isn't expected to pose big risks to humans, UPenn researchers are working on a people vaccine.

MAX MONEY: Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla donated $2,900 to Mehmet Oz's failed U.S. Senate run, the most allowed for individual donors.

FLAG FIXERS: Depending on who you ask, the Philadelphia flag is either great or awful. The Inquirer (paywall) lets you design a new one.

PRETZEL KING: There were 4,000 Philly-style pretzels at the Oscars thanks to host Jimmy Kimmel and Abington native Adam Shapiro.

STRIKE FIGHT: Punches were thrown and two striking Pittsburgh Post-Gazette workers injured by a strikebreaker over the weekend.

JOB PERK: Seltzer's, of Lebanon County, is hiring second-shift workers. Pay starts at $20 an hour. The bologna is free of charge.

Unscramble and send your answer to We'll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag. Answers submitted by 6 p.m. on issue date will be counted.

Yesterday's answer: Egalitarian

Congrats to our daily winners: Craig W., Lisa H., Kimberly D., Jon W., Susan D., Barbara F., Elaine C., Don H., Susan N.-Z., Eric F., Kim C., Dianne K., Cindy G., Bill S., Wendy A., Dan A., David W., Ada M., Starr B., and Daniel M.
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