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Pennsylvania and FEMA will open support sites to help with health care staffing shortages

Jae C. Hong

On today's episode of The Confluence: Gov. Tom Wolf announced the state, in coordination with FEMA, will launch regional support sites for hospitals and long-term care facilities; the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust continues performances with what they call layers of protection; and an economic impact report on tourism along the Great Allegheny Passage.

Regional support sites could assist hospitals, long-term care facilities 

Gov. Tom Wolf announced Friday that the state is partnering with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide additional medical help for hospitals and long term care facilities.

“[The Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania] is saying that 37% of Pennsylvania hospitals are at or exceeding 90% capacity, and that would be a statewide average,” says Kris Mamula, a health care reporter with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

“In Allegheny County, we have research from years past that has shown we’re actually over-bedded. There’s a bigger capacity for hospital beds than Allegheny County really needs for its population. That is not so true in Warren County, for example. It had no hospital beds open [yesterday].”

Mamula doesn’t anticipate FEMA will deploy new structures to house patients, but rather teams of people that can staff units in hospitals or nursing homes that have been closed due to a lack of staff.

Wolf said those teams will be sent out in February, and are expected to be deployed for 60 days, but Mamula says the teams might work beyond that deadline.

“It’s possible that it would be extended, it would have to go beyond that because the hospitals would still be overloaded, and the hospitals would still have trouble discharging patients to long-term care facilities because of staffing problems at the nursing homes. There just aren’t enough people to accommodate everybody,” says Mamula.

Pittsburgh Cultural Trust shows continue to run under a ‘layered defense strategy' to protect from COVID-19
(8:17 - 15:47)

Last week, the Broadway musical “Oklahoma!” was performed at the Benedum Center, but as COVID-19 cases continue to surge in the region, will performances again be put on hold?

“All performances are going on as planned and we are so thrilled that we have been able to successfully reopen this fall and winter,” says Scott Shiller, the vice president of artistic planning at the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.

“Of course, we’re tracking the disease dynamics, but we have a bunch of health and safety measures in place, what we call a ‘layered defense strategy,’ so we can really be responsive to make sure we’re taking care of the artists and the guests, and all of our staff.”

Shiller says that strategy includes requiring guests to show proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test result. Cast members and crew are also regularly tested, and staff, volunteers and artists are vaccinated as well. Masks are required within buildings, and Shiller says the air filtration system has been upgraded, as have cleaning protocols.

“We have not had to have any pauses in performances yet here in Pittsburgh in the Cultural District but of course we have protocols in place, and if we need to take a pause we certainly will. The big thing is now that we are reopen, we want to stay reopen, and we want to do that safely.”

Shiller says the Cultural Trust was seeing some of its highest audience numbers leading up to the pandemic, and although attendees aren’t returning at the same level, he expects many are engaging in new ways. He says the organization has leaned into outdoor, virtual and hybrid performances to keep the performances running.

“The power of the performing and visual arts really do bring people together and give us sort of an opportunity to heal through the arts, so we do think it's important that as long as we can safely gather together that we do gather together,” says Shiller.

Great Allegheny Passage tourism generated more than $121 million in 2019

The Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) stretches 150 miles from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, Md., where it connects with the C&O Canal Towpath which continues on to Washington, D.C.

A report on the Great Allegheny Passage found that tourism created an economic impact of more than $121 million in 2019.

“GAP tourism means folks that are coming in from outside the region to ride their bikes, typically, but sometimes hike or fish or wander or walk along the Great Allegheny Passage, and those who are here overnight are often spending money on overnight lodging like a [bed and breakfast] or a guest house, and they’re often picking up breakfast in the morning or a big dinner at night,” explains GAP Conservancy executive director Bryan Perry.

“It’s a big splash for communities that once relied on extraction industries, coal or coke manufacturing.”

Perry says the new report is not only looking at how much spending is done by tourists, but also how tourism dollars are spreading from tourists to business owners and employees throughout the communities surrounding the trail. Visitors are also generating up to $19 million in local taxes.

Perry says the influx of tourism dipped, however, in 2020.

“Our trail count work estimated that trail traffic was up about 50% over 2019 and way above the 6-year trend line at about a million and a half visits in 2020,” says Perry. “Yet, business owners reported a loss of business in 2020, probably due to COVID.”

Perry says businesses with lodging were hit the hardest early on in the pandemic, but trail traffic was likely up because locals were exploring the GAP trail more than usual.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in Monday to Thursday at 9 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts. 

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