Penn State Health opens new $375M hospital in Lancaster County

It’s Penn State Health’s second new hospital in a year. Joseph Frank of Penn State Health talked with Chief Healthcare Executive about building a staff and planning for growth.

On a raw, gray Monday morning, Penn State Health Lancaster Medical Center began accepting patients for the first time.

Penn State Health opened the new $375 million hospital in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, about an hour outside of Philadelphia. For Penn State Health, it’s the system's second new hospital in a year. Penn State Health opened a hospital just outside of Harrisburg, the state capital, in October 2021.

Inside the new, sleek 132-bed hospital a few miles outside the city of Lancaster, Joseph Frank, Penn State Health East Region hospital president, lauded “the enormously capable staff we assembled here.”

Health system executives around the country have talked about the difficulties they have had finding and keeping workers. Frank admitted to having some anxiety a year ago about hiring enough staff for a new hospital.

Penn State Health recruited some experienced leaders, and they helped entice other doctors and nurses to follow, Frank told Chief Healthcare Executive.

“Everyone thought we’d have a problem with recruiting,” he said. “We didn’t.”

“I think we were very fortunate in that we were able to attract a lot of nursing leaders who had reputations and experience, and lots of other nurses followed them and wanted to be part of this new culture,” he said.

In fact, the hospital has a waiting list for registered nurses. “Other people are waiting to join us,” he said.

“They want to be part of something fresh, something new,” Frank said.

Frank stressed that they haven’t just filled staff openings but recruited a team of people with years, even decades, in healthcare.

“We’ve got lots of seasoned people here,” Frank said. “When you start up a new hospital, you need experienced people.” (See excerpts of our conversation with Joe Frank about the new hospital. The story continues below the video.)

Modest footprint, but room for growth

The Lancaster Medical Center sits in a rapidly growing county, and the new facility is about 30 minutes from Penn State Health’s flagship campus in Hershey. Lancaster County is well known for its Amish community and the hospital offers parking for Amish families’ horses and buggies. Beyond the Amish and rolling farmland, Lancaster County is home to a diverse mix of businesses.

Lancaster General Hospital, operated by Penn Medicine, has served the region for more than a century. UPMC also operates a hospital in the county.

Penn State Health Lancaster Medical Center will take some of the burden from Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, which is typically filled to capacity, Frank said. The Lancaster Medical Center also offers outpatient services and physician practices. Frank anticipates cardiology is going to be a strength.

The new hospital has room for growth. The building can be expanded up to 153 beds. Penn State Health also owns a tract across the road from the hospital and Frank envisions more doctors offices will be built there at some point. “We’ve come in with a very modest footprint,” he said.

At the same time, health systems are increasingly looking to deliver care outside of the hospital and in the home. The changing nature of healthcare played a role in deciding the size of the new hospital.

“Home care is going to be really big,” he said. “We didn’t need to build 400 beds here.”

The new hospital includes an emergency department with over 30 beds, including separate beds for patients with mental health needs.

The emergency department includes a room reserved for victims of sexual assault, offering them more privacy so they can receive treatment and talk more openly without being heard by other patients and staff.

Michael Reihart, the director of the hospital’s emergency services, is a well-known figure in the area’s medical community. Reihart helped build a strong team, Frank said.

“Our emergency room here is going to be outstanding,” Frank said.

The women’s service unit, which is slated to open next month, also will draw patients to the medical center, Frank said. Patients having babies will stay in spacious rooms, with plenty of space for partners, a large tub and an expansive bathroom.

“One of the unique features of the hospital here is our women services program and our birthing center that we’re going to be opening,” Frank said. “It’s staffed by a remarkable group of physicians, midwives, nurse practitioners, registered nurses and support staff. Very dynamic people, very capable people, very experienced people, and they are going to be opening their department in a way that creates a completely different feel than what’s currently available in the community.”

Carol Newsom, director of women’s services at Penn State Health, said the goal is to treat patients and their families holistically. Her team is going to work to engage with patients with warmth to ensure they have the best possible experience.

She also said the maternity unit will offer little luxury touches, including toiletries from local spas. “We’re going to pamper them a little bit,” Newsom said.

Creating a ‘unique experience’

In addition to the medical center, Penn State Health opened a new pediatric center in Lancaster County in the summer. While Penn State health is undoubtedly expanding its presence in the county, system leaders point out they have been serving the community for years.

Lancaster County, home to more than 550,000 residents, sits as a logical place for expansion for several reasons, Frank said. It’s one of Pennsylvania’s fastest growing counties. The county is also gaining more popularity as a place to retire. The Lancaster area has a large population of seniors, and they will need more medical services.

“We’ve spent years planning and designing this facility. So we know our growth here will be very deliberate, very sort of purposeful in terms of how we add capacity going forward,” Frank said. “It’s clear that in three to four years, we will be expanding our ability here to continue to take care of more people. Lancaster County is growing, and the population has a high percentage of people who are over 65, who utilize healthcare at higher rates, and we’re prepared to make those accommodations.”

While he talks about the hospital’s growth in the future, Frank clearly takes immense pride in what has already been built.

“We’ve got all this great momentum,” Frank said.

Walking throughout the hospital, Frank points at different paintings from artists living in Lancaster County. The hospital features hundreds of pieces of art from local artists. One painting of a rural landscape was contributed by a local artist whose son was successfully treated for cancer at Penn State Children’s Hospital, Frank said.

He repeatedly spoke about the staff and how they’re going to engage patients. “They’re going to deliver those high patient satisfaction scores,” he said.

“The patient experience here is going to definitely be our brand,” Frank said. “People are going to quickly differentiate that this is a wonderful place to get care provided by very experienced, dynamic people.”

When asked what he’s most excited about, Frank said it’s “the culture that we’ve created here and the team that we’ve assembled.”

“We’re very focused on creating a very unique experience here for patients and also for the staff that works here,” Frank said. “It feeds on each other: a dynamic staff delivering dynamic care for our friends and neighbors.”