Innovation key to Penn State Hershey’s future, says medical center's CEO

HERSHEY, Pa. -- Penn State's medical school, university hospital and health system continue to be a magnet for future health professionals, a preferred medical destination for patients across Pennsylvania, and a pioneer in personalized medicine research according to Harold L. Paz, Penn State Hershey Medical Center and Health System CEO and Penn State’s senior vice president for health affairs and dean of Penn State College of Medicine.

In delivering his annual update to the Board of Trustees on Friday (March 7), Paz explained that Penn State Hershey's continued success will be dependent upon its ability to inspire innovation across its missions and adopt new models of teaching, research and patient care.

He explained to trustees that while Penn State Hershey has experienced an unprecedented period of growth and strong financial performance in recent years, innovative thinking will be required to address dramatic change within the health care industry, evolving care delivery systems that affect the training of health professionals and potential reductions in government funding to support medical education and research.

“We have been tremendously successful, so why change a thing? Because the approach that has driven our outstanding performance over the past eight years may not be enough to ensure our future success,” Paz said. “Significant forces are shaping the future of patient care, biomedical research and the education of health and medical science professionals, and we must stay ahead of the curve."


Paz shared that College of Medicine remains a significant draw for medical school applicants, with more than 8,800 applications this year for just 145 openings in the medical school class of 2018. He also said that the college’s new physician assistant program received more than 1,900 applicants for 30 available program openings.

He told trustees that a new family medicine residency program based at the College of Medicine's University Park Regional Medical Campus and developed and operated in collaboration with Mount Nittany Medical earned accreditation from the Accreditation Committee on Graduate Medical Education (ACGME). Paz explained that one of the program’s goals is to help develop much-needed primary care physicians who may continue to practice medicine in north central Pennsylvania after they complete their training.

But Paz reinforced that Penn State Hershey's goal is not just to produce more physicians, it is to develop physicians and other care providers who are better prepared for a rapidly evolving health care system.

“Changing care models and an emphasis on managing population health mean rethinking the way we train future health professionals and how they learn and work together,” he said. “Students and trainees will be attracted to institutions that are on the leading edge, so we must be innovative leaders to remain competitive and provide the type of care givers the future needs."

One example of medical education innovation Paz highlighted was a $1 million grant the College of Medicine secured last June from the American Medical Association. In all, 119 medical schools applied for funding through the AMA’s Accelerating Change in Medical Education initiative. The College of Medicine is one of just 11 medical schools across the United States – and the only school in Pennsylvania – to receive a grant.

The grant will be used to create a new component in the medical education curriculum called “Systems Based Learning” in which students will serve as patient navigators. The program will allow students to serve patients in a meaningful way during their education, preparing them to work within all aspects of the nation’s evolving healthcare system. These include hospital, home, skilled nursing, and community and social agencies.

Patient Care:

Patient volumes at Penn State Hershey continued to increase. Paz reported hospital admissions of 27,721 in fiscal year 2012-13, an increase of more than 600 admissions over the previous year. Outpatient visits grew to more than 911,097, up from 893,500 a year ago. Emergency visits were 67,128, up from 64,421, and surgical cases increased to 27,758 from 27,614.

Paz also touted the clinical excellence of Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital, which moved into a new free-standing facility in 2013 and was recognized as one of the nation's Best Children's Hospitals by U.S. News & World Report in five clinical specialties: orthopedics, cancer, urology, neurology and neurosurgery, and cardiology and heart surgery.

Growth of services across the continuum of care was also a focus of Paz's presentation. He specifically highlighted the 40,000-square-foot expansion of Penn State Hershey Rehabilitation Hospital, which will open a new 22-bed transitional care facility, 22 additional rehab beds, a wound care center and a day hospital. The project is expected to be complete in April 2014 and nearly doubles the size of the Rehabilitation Hospital, which opened less than four years ago as a joint venture with Select Medical.


Paz also discussed how advancements in the field of genetic and molecular medicine are influencing the future of patient care. He highlighted active research being conducted jointly by Penn State Hershey Institute for Personalized Medicine and the Penn State Hershey ALS clinic, directed by Dr. Zachary Simmons. Currently, there is no cure and no known cause for ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease, a devastating neurodegenerative disease that affects about 20,000 Americans. Through the normal course of diagnosing patients in the ALS clinic, and with the patient’s and family members’ consent, blood and saliva samples are taken and used to conduct highly sophisticated, comprehensive genetic sequencing to identify known or new genetic mutations associated with ALS. These samples are matched with clinical information from the patient’s electronic medical record.

Scientists will be able to identify precise gene matches in patients that have early onset, aggressive ALS that were not present in other patients that have late-onset, slowly progressive ALS. Short term, these findings may help predict how the disease will progress in an individual. This type of knowledge will help the treating physician think about early interventions and existing tools that may improve the patient’s condition. Long term, this research could lead to development of new drugs and therapies for ALS, which could revolutionize how the disease is treated and bring renewed hope to ALS patients and their families.


The Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania (HAP) presented Penn State Hershey with a 2013 HAP Achievement Award for Community Benefit for an initiative in the Lebanon School District. In fall 2012, 100 Penn State Hershey nurses and its PRO Wellness Center coordinated an effort to perform mandated hearing, vision, height and weight, and scoliosis screenings on all students in the school district in just two days. In previous years, the effort had taken busy school nurses months, leaving them with little time to address any issues identified with students and their parents.

Penn State Hershey staff returned to the school district again in fall 2013 to do the screenings plus a research project on hearing loss in teenagers, more advanced data capture of results and a fundraising effort with the local Lion’s Club to help supply students in need with glasses.

"The best way for Penn State Hershey to leverage opportunities in a changing health care world is to foster the ingenuity and creativity of our people,” Paz said. “Our goal is to inspire innovation among our faculty, staff and students to ensure that Penn State Hershey continues to make a maximum contribution to our community and those we serve."

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Last Updated March 07, 2014