Nutting named chief medical officer for Reading Hospital

Nutting –


Tower Health has named Dr. Ron Nutting, as the new chief medical officer of Reading Hospital in West Reading.

He has been serving as interim chief medical officer since March.

In the role he will provide senior executive leadership to the hospital’s medical staff while aiming to foster quality and innovation in medical services provided to the community.

Nutting started his career as a cardiovascular and thoracic surgeon at Reading Hospital in 1992 following military service that included tours of duty in Desert Storm.

Nutting transitioned from clinical care into medical staff administration in 2013 where he served as director of medical staff offices until 2019, when he assumed the role of vice president of medical staff services offices for the Tower Health System.

During his tenure as director of medical staff services, Nutting led several initiatives including the adoption of new medical staff bylaws, policies and rules at Reading Hospital that were then adopted across all of Tower Health with the acquisition of the new hospitals.

Nutting is formally trained in Quality Improvement and Patient Safety, and leads many clinical and operational improvement initiatives.

He began the role July 19.


Tower Health to open 3 urgent care centers this summer

Tower Health of Reading said it will open three new Tower Health Urgent Care facilities.

Tower Health Urgent Care North Coventry, at 16 Glocker Way in North Coventry Township, will open July 6; Tower Health Urgent Care Sinking Spring, at 4860 Penn Avenue in South Heidelberg Township, will open July 20; and Tower Health Urgent Care Thorndale, at 3411 Lincoln Highway, Suite 3451 in Caln Township, will open Aug. 3.

All Tower Health Urgent Care facilities are open 365 days a year from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. to provide walk-in care for a variety of conditions including: colds, flu, allergies, asthma, sore throat, sports injuries, minor lacerations, sprains, earaches and earaches, and preventative services such as physicals, vaccines, and occupational health.

“Urgent Care is an essential link in our continuum of care that connects patients to a physician if they do not have a primary care doctor or their doctor is not available,” said Clint Matthews, president and CEO, Tower Health in a release.

All of the urgent care centers will use Epic, the electronic medical record in use across Tower Health. Epic brings patient health information from Tower Health care sites into one health record to create more coordinated care.

Customers Bank brings back former SVP as chief accounting officer

Velasquez –


Customers Bank of Wyomissing has named Jessie John Velasquez as senior vice president, chief accounting officer.

He most recently served as senior vice president and head of accounting policy and external reporting for Webster Bank N.A. of Radnor, but previously worked for Customers Bank as senior vice president and deputy chief accounting officer.

“I am delighted to return to Customers Bank and be part of a leading financial institution that takes pride in its Team Members,” said Velasquez in a release. “I am looking forward to working with my colleagues in developing a best-in-class accounting organization in support of Customers Bank’s growth and success.”

As chief accounting officer, Velasquez will oversee corporate accounting functions, including corporate tax, regulatory reporting and accounting policy.

Velasquez will support the financial decision-making of the executive management team, and work with them to chart the path for the bank’s future growth.

“We are pleased to welcome Jessie back to Customers Bank. His significant accounting and regulatory experience will be valuable assets to the management team as we implement our strategic growth plans,” stated Richard Ehst, president and CEO of Customers Bank.

Lehigh Valley real estate bouncing back, but low inventory is slowing recovery

BBHS Fox& Roach has released its HomeExpert Market Report for May. –


Real estate in Pennsylvania is rebounding now that in-person showings and sales are again allowed after being halted because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But while sales numbers shot up in May over April, showing a pent-up demand, sales in the Lehigh Valley were still down about 25% compared to May of last year.

Joan Docktor, president of Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Fox & Roach Realtors, which has a 12-county footprint around the Philadelphia market, said it wasn’t the industry closure impacting May sales but extremely low inventory.

Docktor said by the end of May real estate sales in Pennsylvania had nearly caught up to the sales in nearby states that kept sales going through the pandemic.

But housing inventory was down 23% over May of 2019, which was already a period of low housing inventory for the Lehigh Valley.

She said the lack of inventory, however, has been caused by many factors, not just COVID-19 and that may take the local real estate industry longer to recover from.

“We don’t see any way for that to recover in the near future,” she said.

She noted that there was only a two month supply of inventory of homes in the Lehigh Valley market, which means if not another house came on the market in the next two months, theoretically every house would sell.

Normally, there would be a six month supply of housing inventory in the Lehigh Valley.

In the Lehigh Valley there were 1,946 homes for sale in May as compared to 3,486 in May 2019. Berks County had 77 homes for sale in May compared to 139 in May 2019.

According to the BBHS Fox& Roach HomeExpert Market Report, the number of properties sold in in the 12-county greater Philadelphia region during May was down 45.7%  from this time last year.

Overall there were 4,779 homes sold in May 2020, compared to 8,796 sold in May 2019.

In the Lehigh Valley 301 properties were sold in May, a decrease of more than 60% from the 838 sold in May 2019

In Berks County only four homes sold were sold in May as compared to 32 in May 2019, a decrease of more than 87%.

While Docktor said it is a strong sellers’ market, many homeowners are hesitant to put their homes on the market.

She said a large source of inventory has traditionally been senior citizens downsizing to 55+ communities, smaller homes and condos.

“Right now the prices of these smaller homes and condos are more than their single-family home, so they’re staying put,” she said.

With those seniors staying put, there’s nowhere for smaller homeowners to move up to and they are keeping their homes too, making it harder for first-time homebuyers to enter the market.

Also, she said the number of investment properties is also high. People bought second homes to rent when prices were low during the last recession.

Those owners are still able to rent those properties out for fairly profitable amount and are still making money, so are unlikely to let them go during this economy.

For those properties that are on the market, prices are higher with most sellers getting asking price or higher.

Average sale prices are up by 5% across the 12-county region, with May 2020 average price at $304,895 compared to $290,315 in May 2019.

In the Leigh Valley the average sales price was $213,789 in May compared to $208,000 in May 2019

In Berks County the numbers are slightly skewed with only four properties sold. The Multiple Listing Service has an increase of 273.6% over the year prior with an average value of $820,000 compared to $183,950 in May 2019. There, the disparity is likely caused by the sale of one expensive home.

But make no mistake about it, home prices are up – even if mortgage prices are at near record lows – and people are willing to pay.

She said there have been many instances where there have been up to 10 offers on one property.

“That leaves nine families without a house and there aren’t nine other houses for them to buy,” she said. “It’s frustrating for all these buyers that find the house of their dreams but miss out.”

She said anyone interested in a home should start out with the last and best offer. Now is not a time where they’re going to find their bargain dream home.

But overall, she said the real estate industry is definitely looking up after a dismal couple of months.

She pointed to a recent survey by the National Association of Realtors that showed even in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic 75% of people would still attend an open house for a property they are interested in, even if open houses are still on hold in Pennsylvania.

Docktor said the bottom line is that the demand is there.

“People are willing to look at houses. People are willing to sell houses and houses are selling,” she said.

Tower Health eliminating 1,000 jobs after COVID-19 losses

West Reading-based Tower Health said it will be eliminating 1,000 jobs because of the financial impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on its health system.

The health network said around 10% of those jobs are currently unfilled.

As part of this reduction, Tower Health will close the Pottstown Hospital Maternity Unit, and will close or consolidate certain clinical services including the THMG Reading Birth Center, select behavioral health services at Reading Hospital, the Reading Hospital occupational medicine and sports medicine programs, and two physician practices: Coventry Foot & Ankle and Premier GYN Limerick.

Clint Mathews, CEO of Tower Health said that through May, the health network experienced a $212 million loss in revenue, roughly 40% of its revenue, because of the suspension of elective procedures.

At the same time spending increase for personal protective gear and other COVID-19 related needs.

“The decision to reduce our workforce has been difficult and painful, because it impacts lives,” Matthews said in a memo to employees. “It is necessary, however, to ensure that Tower Health can continue to serve the community with high-quality healthcare in the months and years ahead.”

Impacted employees will receive severance pay and job placement assistance both within and outside the network.

Mathews said the goal of the reductions, as well as others the health network may implement in the future, is to save $230 million over the next two years.

GoggleWorks launches online store to sell local artwork

Among the items for sale on the Goggleworks online store are Pagoda socks, depicting the famed Reading Pagoda. They were designed by Reading Native Kate Williamson. WEBSITE IMAGE –


When Tess Doran took over as director of retail and visitor experience at the GoggleWorks in Reading one of her long-term goals was to establish an online store.

When the COVID-19 pandemic came it became a priority.

“I decided right then this is the time to keep connected. If we could have online programming the store could be up as well to help us stay connected and support the artists,” she said.

After knuckling down to create the online retail store, Doran now has a number of local artisans featured on the GoggleWorks store site selling everything from locally made, hand-blown glassware to paintings and even locally designed socks.

As the site develops, Doran said she will be adding more items. There are hundreds of items in the GoggleWorks store waiting to be added to the site, including jewelry, she said. The store will initially feature existing Goggleworks artists, but plans are to expand the site and open it up to goods from artisans from the Greater Berks area.

In addition to supporting local artists who have few venues to display and sell their works in the pandemic restrictions, sales will support the GoggleWorks.

“People want to support the GoggleWorks and this is another way they can, maybe buying a gift for those summer birthdays,” she said.

Ben Franklin Technology Partners announces latest investments

Two Bethlehem companies were among the startups that received funding from the Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania.

Thread Bioscience received a $100,000 investment to help it establish a prototype production facility and R&D laboratory for a new diagnostic test, CultureStat, which is used to detect urinary tract infections.

MDS Link received a $40,000 investment to develop a simple, inexpensive solution to significantly increase data transport using existing coax cable to meet the need for greater data transmission bandwidth to homes and apartments.

Ben Franklin is also providing dollar for dollar matching funds to manufacturers working with a college or university partner on technology-based innovation.

Bally Ribbon in Bally received $20,000 to work with Northampton Community College’s Emerging Technology Applications Center to determine an alternative process for the heating and curing of ribbon materials.

Bearing and Drive Solutions of Reading received $25,000 to work with Lehigh University’s Center for Supply Chain Management to improve system integration and costing to streamline operations.

Custom Laminating Corp. of Mount Bethel received $10,500 to work with Lehigh’s Enterprise Systems Center to complete the analysis or two laminating processes to improve efficiencies.

Heyco Metals Inc. of Reading received $25,000 to work with Lehigh’s Center for Supply Chain Research to develop and implement a new Enterprise Resource Planning system.

Misco Products Corp. of Reading received $25,000 to work with Lehigh’s Center for Supply Chain Research to evaluate the current manufacturing process and develop a facility master plan for projected space needs.

PMA-13 Inc. of Allentown received $12,000 to work with Lehigh’s Center for Supply Chain Research to implement a new Enterprise Resource Planning System.

Straight Arrow Products Inc. of Bethlehem received $10,000 to work with Lehigh’s Center for Supply Chain Research to implement an enhanced warehouse management system.

Alvernia chooses RLPS Architects and Warfel Construction for CollegeTowne project in Reading

Artist’s rendering of Alvernia University’s CollegeTowne campus at Forth and Penn streets in Reading. PHOTO/SUBMITTED –


Alvernia University moved a step closer to making its ambitious CollegeTowne project in downtown Reading a reality.

University officials selected the Lancaster County-based firms RLPS Architects and Warfel Construction to design and renovate a property at 401 Penn Street in downtown Reading.

The five-story building, which formerly was home to CNA Insurance and more recently to I-LEAD Charter School, will include classrooms and labs, loft-style student housing, dining facilities, retail outlets and other operations, and serve as the centerpiece of the CollegeTowne initiative.

Alvernia plans to base its business, e-sports, communications and engineering programs there. It also will be home to a student-centered business incubator to be run by the university’s rebranded O’Pake Institute for Economic Development and Entrepreneurship.

Dr. Rodney Ridley, associate provost and vice president and chief executive officer for the O’Pake Institute, said the business incubator will partner with various economic groups that will work together to promote entrepreneurship and business growth.

The idea, Ridley said, is to help jump-start the downtown economy.

“What happens is that now you have college students living downtown, and you need restaurants and coffee shops and entertainment,” Ridley said. “And you begin to make this economic engine start happening.”

Fox Theatres offering virtual cinema

Fox Theatres of Wyomissing is hoping online movie ‘ticket’ sales will bring in revenue. PHOTO/SUBMITTED –

A local independent movie theater chain is getting creative in an attempt to generate business during the COVID-19 shutdown.

Movie theaters have been barred from operating in Pennsylvania, and will likely be among the last businesses allowed to reopen when pandemic restrictions are lifted.

So if people can’t come to the theater, Fox Theatres is going to them.

The Wyomissing-based theater operator has created Fox Theatres Virtual Cinema where movie lovers can watch Fox Theatres’ curated movies at home.

Vicki Graff, spokeswoman for the theaters, said the concept is similar to what some other theaters are doing around the country and is a way film companies are trying to help independent theaters during the shutdown.

She said people can order tickets online on their website, www.foxshowtimes.com, and can then watch the movie on their computer or other home devices.

For example, a person can buy a ticket for the documentary “Spaceship Earth” for $3.99 and get a three-day rental of the movie.

Graff said the process is similar to renting a movie through a streaming a movie service like Amazon Prime, “but instead it helps support our small business.”

The first weekend of virtual movie offerings was all documentaries, and Graff said it was a slow start, but people have expressed excitement over the concept. New movies will be added each Friday.

She said there will be a wider range of movies in coming weeks including comedies, dramas and thrillers.

“Part of why people come to the movies is social, but part of it is also to have a curated movie experience,” Graff said.

To further offer people who miss their movies a more authentic theater experience, Fox Theatres will also soon begin curbside sales of concessions including popcorn and candy.

She said they are also considering setting up drive-in theaters in their parking lots as soon as they are allowed.


Tower Health to start phased reopening of services

Tower Health’s Reading HealthPlex in West Reading. PHOTO/FILE –

Tower Health in West Reading said it is working on a phased reopening plan after shutting down most services to deal with the COVID-19 virus.

The health system said the rollout of services such as medically necessary and time-sensitive procedures, tests and office visits will be conducted over the next several weeks.

“We look forward to welcoming the community back to our facilities in a very coordinated approach,” said Clint Mathews, Tower Health president and CEO in a press release. “Tower Health facilities are clean and safe and prepared to provide life-saving treatment.

He said the phased reopening of services will occur in the following order:

  1. Scheduled in-person care appointments that are medically necessary and time sensitive.
  2. Surgeries that are medically necessary and time sensitive.
  3. Medically necessary and time sensitive procedures for patients with the most pressing clinical needs.

Tower said that all patients will be screened for COVID-19 prior to any surgery, procedure, or office visit. If symptoms are present, the appointment would be canceled and the patient referred to his or her primary care physician for care.

The health network noted that care providers will also be regularly screened.

Tower Health consists of Reading Hospital in West Reading; Brandywine Hospital in Coatesville; Chestnut Hill Hospital in Philadelphia; Jennersville Hospital in West Grove; Phoenixville Hospital in Phoenixville; Pottstown Hospital in Pottstown; and St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children and their related care facilities.

Drop in patients could shutter many independent clinics

Every flu season, Dr. Jeffrey Harris’s clinic in Newville, Cumberland County, is packed with patients. It was just as busy during outbreaks like the H1N1 scare in 2009. But the COVID-19 pandemic has been much different for the medical center, which is currently seeing less than half the patients it normally would.

Independent medical practices like Harris’s Graham Medical Clinic have overhauled how they offer in-person visits to protect their staff and patients from contacting COVID-19, but if patients don’t return soon to their providers, many small clinics – some say 30 to 50% — could face closures by the end of the summer.

“There is certainly anxiety among independent physicians and other specialties,” Harris said. “I never would have thought that a health crisis would bring our patient numbers this low.”

Dr. Nader Rahmanian, a Wyomissing, Berks County-based geriatric specialist, is seeing only 10% of his patients face-to-face.

Telehealth services have become much more profitable for health care providers in the past two months thanks to changes that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services made regarding how much Medicare pays for telehealth services during the pandemic. Still, telehealth’s expanded payout for Medicare patients, isn’t closing the gap because many of Rahmanian’s patients don’t have internet connections or phones to use the service.

For an independent clinic that relies on patient visits to get the most reimbursements possible from insurers, failing to get patients in the door will not only harm the patient but could be the end of the clinic.

“I need to bring them to the office or get them to the emergency room, but they are afraid to go anywhere,” Rahmanian said. “They don’t want to go to labs either because they are worried about exposure.”

At Jackson Siegelbaum Gastroenterology, which reopened its Camp Hill office this week, each of its provider teams are doing face-to-face visits with patients just one day a week, said Heather Nairn, COO at Jackson Siegelbaum.

The gastroenterology group also operates a surgery center in Camp hill and another office in Harrisburg, which is planned to reopen by the end of the month. When they open, there will be changes: checkpoints for staff to check the symptoms and temperatures of patients before they enter the building, and waiting rooms that have been redesigned to keep patients six feet apart.

Heather Nairn, COO at Jackson Siegelbaum, said that providers need to go above and beyond safety measures to demonstrate to staff that they are willing to do what it takes to keep them safe.

“If you are demonstrating to your staff that you want to protect them, they are going to take that and transmit it to your patients when they call them to schedule and when they see them in the office,” Nairn said. “That message goes through.”

Both Rahmanian and Harris are relying on federal assistance to keep their employees on staff and remain operational, but with experts predicting that the COVID-19 pandemic will last long into the year, small clinics without the backing of large health systems will need additional help. Loans such as the Patient Protection Program are keeping clinics open by providing money to pay staff, but in the coming months Rahmanian estimated that 30% to 50% of the state’s independent practices may have to close or furlough their businesses. Other practices may be able to survive by partnering with area health systems.

Third party payers have yet to offer the same reimbursements for telehealth services as Medicare, meaning that providers will need to stomach the lower reimbursements for care if they continue to offer telehealth.

Nairn said she would like to see further support from commercial payers as well as other vendors that work with health care providers to help these small businesses stay open and retain employees.

“This is the time that we need a call to action for everyone to focus on the philosophy of people over profits and let’s build some partnerships to get through this crisis,” she said.

Some counties announce intent to defy Wolf’s reopening plan: UPDATED

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf has moved 37 counties from red to yellow in the phased reopening of the state. Some counties not on the list say they’re moving forward anyway. PHOTO/FILE –

While Pennsylvania has moved 37 counties to the yellow phase starting May 15, some counties not on the list are saying they plan to take matters into their own hands.

Schuylkill County, which did not make the list says it will reopen in defiance of that order.

Yellow status, means businesses in a county will be allowed to conduct in-person functions, except for schools, gyms, indoor recreation centers, hair and nail salons and other businesses where high numbers of people congregate.

In a letter to Governor Wolf, six elected officials from Schuylkill, including county commissioners and state representatives from the county, announced their intention to move Schuylkill County into the yellow phase of reopening on May 15, contrary to the governor’s plan.

In Berks County the sheriff’s department and district attorney’s office have told the Reading Eagle they will not prosecute cases against businesses that reopen.

In Northampton County, Executive Lamont McClure noted that the issue of reopening really isn’t in the counties’ hands.

“As a county we have very little authority over our residents and almost no authority over our businesses,” he said.

The only exception would be the independently elected district attorney in each county, who could opt not to prosecute any charges that local or state police bring against a business or individual for violating the governor’s orders. That is what’s happening in Berks

Aside from that, McClure has reopened the county’s human services offices. Staff had been working from home since March 16.

McClure noted that the operations did not fall under the governor’s orders, but he closed the offices to aid COVID-19 mitigation efforts.

But, he said it became clear that the staff was having difficulty in doing their work remotely and it was important to bring everyone back in to assist at-risk seniors and abused children that are often their clients.

He said safety protocol like mandatory masks and temperature checks will be enforced.

Lehigh County Executive Phil Armstrong said he does not want to defy the governors orders and will stick with the guidelines for red designated counties.
He said not only does he support the COVID-19 protections, Wolf today announced severe penalties for those out of compliance, including the loss of discretionary funding and said to defy the orders wouldn’t be worth it.