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Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Pennsylvania and its Health Care System

A report from HAP's Center for Health Policy Research about the pandemic in Pennsylvania and its effect on the state's health care delivery system.

Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Pennsylvania and its Health Care System Introduction

On March 11, 2020, when the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that COVID-19 was a global pandemic, there were 118,000 confirmed cases in 110 countries.  The first confirmed case in Pennsylvania was recorded on March 6 and the first COVID-19-related death occurred on March 18.  Since then, the commonwealth has seen increasing cumulative case counts and deaths. On October 14, after recording more than 1,000 new cases each on the previous nine days, Pennsylvania’s then-Secretary of Health Rachel Levine, MD, announced that the state had entered a second wave.  On December 10, 2020, Pennsylvania saw a single-day record of 12,816 new cases. By the first anniversary of the pandemic (March 6, 2021), Pennsylvania reported 948,861 cases and 24,425 deaths.

Since the onset of the pandemic, Pennsylvania’s hospitals and health systems have heroically stepped up to face the challenges of COVID-19. To minimize the virus’ spread and save lives, the commonwealth’s hospitals increased testing efforts, treating, and vaccinating millions of Pennsylvanians. Hospitals erected testing tents, increased intensive care unit (ICU) capacity, and established COVID-19 units to treat and isolate infected patients while protecting the health of other patients and staff.  

These COVID-19 preparations and precautions came at a great financial cost to hospitals. Revenue shortfalls—due to state and federal government orders requiring hospitals to defer or cancel scheduled services and procedures to free up capacity for COVID-19 patients—intensified these burdens. During 2020, between increased costs and revenue losses, Pennsylvania hospitals incurred an estimated $5 billion shortfall.   

During 2020, hospitals learned a great deal about how to coexist with COVID-19. They put in place protocols to treat existing COVID-19 patients, and also safely provide important routine and specialty care. Through reconfiguring space to accommodate for social distancing, creating special wings for COVID-19 patients, and doubling down on infection prevention and cleaning best practices, hospitals have been able to implement a model for safe care for all who need it.
Hospitals are economic anchors of their communities. Pennsylvania’s hospitals and health systems contributed $143 billion in spending that includes $37 billion in salaries and supported more than 660,000 jobs during fiscal year (FY) 2019.  Hospitals will need long-term federal and state support to ensure they can remain economic and health care leaders for their communities.

This report aims to summarize how COVID-19 affected Pennsylvania, with specific attention to its hospitals and health systems. 

Table of Contents 

COVID-19 in Numbers
Case History in Pennsylvania
COVID-19 in Pennsylvania’s Counties and Regions
COVID-19 Incidence in Rural and Urban Pennsylvania
Hospitalizations Due to COVID-19 in Pennsylvania
Rate of COVID-19 Patients to Other Inpatients
Death Rate Due to COVID-19 in Pennsylvania
Differences in the Incidence of COVID-19 for Racial and Ethnic Groups in Pennsylvania
Policy and Regulations Promoting Mitigation
Financial Toll of COVID-19 for Pennsylvania Hospitals 
Analysis of the Impacts of COVID-19 on Pennsylvania Hospitals
COVID-19 Disaster Emergency Report
COVID-19 in 2021: The Potential Effect on the Hospital Revenues


Topics: Emergency Preparedness

Revision Date: 6/1/2021

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