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.

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.

Despite the pandemic, Berks County’s economy is anchored to a firm foundation

As reliable as Pennsylvania Dutch Country soft pretzels, economic growth in Berks County continues to increase at a stable pace.

Trucking, logistics, distribution, manufacturing, health care and agribusiness are long-standing contributors to Berks County’s strong economic landscape – even during the Covid-19 pandemic crisis.

Logistics and distribution access points from Interstates 78, 422 (east/west) 222 and 61 (north/south and central) along with the Pennsylvania Turnpike provide nationwide brands like Pet Smart to serve consumers from Berks County hubs. 

“These corridors have become a large component for us,” for growth and job balance, said Pamela Shupp Menet, vice president of external affairs for Greater Reading Chamber Alliance. She said facility sizes had increased along those distribution routes, providing services throughout the northeast corridor and beyond. Despite the governor’s shutdown order in March, the employment base was strong heading into 2020.

Because many Berks businesses were deemed essential under the order, unemployment has been lower than in other area communities. According to a recent press release by the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, February’s unemployment rate was 4.6 percent in Berks, significantly lower than the state average of 6 percent in March. 

The county’s labor force grew 9 percent between 2000 and 2018, according to the Berks County Community Foundation. During roughly the same period overall jobs number grew 11 percent. While the report concluded manufacturing jobs were down during that time, health care and social services employment jumped by 62 percent.

Meanwhile, partnerships with Kutztown University’s Small Business Development Center, Ben Franklin Tech Ventures at Lehigh University and the Jump Start Incubator within Berks County Community Foundation are providing launch pad services for entrepreneurs and small businesses.

West Reading on the rise.

New mental health facilities anticipated as part of the Tower Health/Drexel University project in West Reading could provide office space and resources for associated businesses, health care entrepreneurs and start-ups. 

“With Tower teaming up with Drexel, that will spark some of the incubator things in and around where they are building the school,” Shupp Menet said.

The Tower Health/Drexel campus building broke ground last June on the site of the former Knitting Mills. The roughly $70 million redevelopment goal of the former Berkshire Knitting Mills is to attract professional talent and newcomers to live and work in and around West Reading, she said.

Agriculture continues to be a solid Berks economic driver.

“Over the years agribusinesses have become a much bigger portion of our loan requests – certainly in the past three years,” Shupp Menet said. 

Prior to Covid-19 restrictions the agriculture sector accounted for roughly 43 percent of loan inquiries. GRCA administers the Pennsylvania Industrial Development Authority loan program in Berks County.

“Since 2017 there have been 21 agribusiness financing projects in Berks County totaling $22.5 million and supported by $8.1 million in PIDA loan funds,” Shupp Menet said. During the past two years, those loans have been going to expand existing farms. 

Agribusiness includes crops, poultry farms and related businesses that support growing and farming operations. Many farming operations continued to be family-owned and operated. 

Successful transitions to the next generation are also adopting newer technologies, she said.

Manufacturing jobs remain in demand during the pandemic as some businesses convert production lines to make personal protective equipment (PPE) such as face masks and gowns, and hand sanitizer. Business expansions, new facility construction projects, along with businesses relocations were all up before Covid-19.

There is concern and uncertainty over government ordered shutdowns once construction projects resume. “Those businesses [moving to new buildings] would need to also be deemed essential in order to open, too,” she said. 

Residential housing starts decline.

Residential housing starts, a sector which was down prior to Covid-19, continued to be slow.

 “Housing has just not picked up in Berks County,” said Michelle Franklin, a subdivision and land development senior planner at Berks County Planning Commission.

From Albany to Wyomissing Heights there were 92 new single-family housing starts reported in the fourth quarter of 2019. Since the end of February few new housing applications have received.

Franklin attributes poor housing starts to an old county-wide tax reassessment from 1994 that placed a higher tax burden on new home buyers, rather than fears over Covid-19.  “Housing starts have been down since the 2008 recession, and we never really came back from it,” she said.

Buy local trend could be next

Shupp Menet made a post-Covid prediction: “…a lot of communities will see a very large push to buy local, and not just restaurants and professional services.”

Creating and supporting a regional supply chain in the post-Covid recovery could become a factor in continued growth. 

“As we begin our conversations around what recovery looks like for us, I think that will be a big push,” she said.

Jason Brudereck, director of communications for Berks County Community Foundation, is optimistic there will be opportunities after the pandemic is past. “Some will close, but others will step in…small businesses are the job creators in any community,” he said.

Tower Health furloughs 1,000 full-time employees

Tower Health, the Reading-based health network, will furlough approximately 1,000 full time employees in response to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the health system. The impacted employees work in a range of support, administrative, and technical areas.

Tower Health officials said that the furloughs are necessary because of a 40 to 50 percent decline in revenue from the suspension of non-emergency surgeries, and a rise in COVID-19-related expenses.

In a memo to employees, Tower Health Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Therese Sucher wrote: “This decision has been extremely difficult. Every employee at Tower Health is critical to fulfilling our promise of advancing Health and transforming lives and we regret that these extraordinary circumstances have forced us to take these measures.”

Furloughed employees will have access to their accrued earned time off and their health benefits will be maintained during the furlough.

“We understand how difficult the furlough may be for our impacted employees and their families,” Ms. Sucher said. “We do believe this furlough will be temporary and we look forward to the return of regular operations as soon as is safely possible.”

Reading Hospital adds emergency tent, virtual ICU

Reading Hospital has added an emergency tent adjacent to the hospital’s emergency department, one of several changes to adjust to the hospital’s needs during the COVID-19 crisis.

The tent will add capacity and be used to treat suspected COVID-19 patients, according to the Tower Health Network, the Reading-based parent health organization of Reading Hospital. The tent can also be used for future emergencies as needed.

In addition, a virtual intensive care unit will allow the hospital’s critical care physicians to remotely monitor patients in all ICU’s and provide direction to caregivers onsite. The virtual intensive care unit will be a permanent fixture at Reading Hospital after the pandemic is over, according to Tower Health.

The hospital has also placed a trailer on site to serve as a temporary morgue in the event their internal facilities reach capacity.

Reading Hospital Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to helping the hospital fund its mission, donated $250,000 dollars to help pay for these COVID-19-related changes.

“The Foundation is here to support the Reading Hospital community, physicians, and staff,” said Jeff Rush, Foundation chairman in a statement. “We’ve never seen anything like this in the storied history of our hospital and we are committed to providing the assistance needed at this critical time.”

Survey: 37 languages spoken by diverse Reading Hospital employees

Reading Hospital is looking to better support its diverse workforce through understanding which language their employees speak at home. The hospital, which employs close to 7,000 people, found that its employees speak at least 37 languages, according to a survey by the hospital’s Diversity & Inclusion Council.

Approximately 225 employees of the Reading-based flagship hospital of the Tower Health network responded to a survey asking them to reply with “hello” in their first language. While 32 respondents answered in English, 193 employees responded in other languages. The top five non-English languages were Spanish (94), French (11), Romanian (9), Vietnamese (9), and African-Creole (8).

The survey is part of an initial fact-finding and inquiry phase of development for the hospital’s Diversity and Inclusion Council.

“Reading Hospital is proud of our diverse workforce, reflecting the multi-cultural community that we serve,” said William M. Jennings, president and CEO of Reading Hospital and co-chair of the Diversity & Inclusion Council. “Better understanding who our employees are will help us create an inclusive environment where everyone is encouraged to share and celebrate both their differences and similarities.”

Reading Hospital formed the Diversity & Inclusion Council last year. The Council includes more than 20 employees representing various levels of the hospital’s clinical, support, and administrative functions.


Reading Hospital installs new cancer treatment tool

A new cancer treatment tool which employs magnetic resonance imaging to treat tumors is now in use at the McGlinn Cancer Institute at Reading Hospital.

The MRIdian MRI-Guided Linear Accelerator was first installed in August and Reading Hospital patients began receiving treatment with it in December 2019, according to Tower Health, the parent health network of Reading Hospital.

A ribbon cutting for the new tool was held on Jan. 16 with Clint Matthews, president and CEO of Tower Health, and Dr. Erik Rupard, chief of hematology and oncology at Reading Hospital, presiding over the event.

The MRI Linear Accelerator combines two pieces of equipment into one, according to Tower Health. The tool allows physicians to conduct a patient’s radiation therapy treatment while simultaneously looking at a real-time image of the tumor through MRI.

The system is designed to minimize exposure of healthy tissue to radiation when a tumor is in a hard-to-reach location within the body or near critical organs such as the heart, lungs, and upper abdomen.

“This technology is unlike any other radiation option available today, including proton therapy,” said Dr. Michael L. Haas, chief of radiation oncology at Reading Hospital. “It allows us to see the tumor while we treat it and deliver a less invasive, and often more precise and accurate radiation treatment.”

Haas said that if the tumor being treated or a body organ moves beyond the boundary set by the physician, the radiation beam automatically pauses. When the target moves back into the predefined boundaries, treatment automatically resumes.

110 Drexel Medicine employees join Reading’s Tower Health Medical Group

As part of Tower Health’s recent partnership with Philadelphia’s Drexel University, 110 clinicians and staff from Drexel Medicine joined Tower Health Medical Group, effective Jan. 1.

Tower Health’s Reading HealthPlex in West Reading.  -file image

Accepting offers from Reading-based health network were 52 physicians, 10 advanced practice clinicians, and 48 support staff. More are expected to join in the near future, according to Tower Health.

“We are pleased to have more than 100 new team members join Tower Health,” said Clint Matthews, president and CEO of Tower Health, which signed a letter of intent to form the combined academic medicine physician practice in May of 2019.

Tower Health aims to expand the health network’s clinical footprint through the combined Drexel/Tower Health practice, and increase opportunities for medical student clinical rotations and for clinical research.

Tower Health, Drexel University finalize acquisition of St.Christopher’s Hospital for Children

Tower Health, the Reading-based health network, and Philadelphia-based Drexel University have completed the acquisition of Philadelphia’s St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children.  St. Christopher’s Healthcare, a subsidiary of American Academic Health System, headquartered in El Segundo, California, is the former owner of St. Christopher’s Hospital. The acquisition was finalized on Friday, Dec. 13 with an effective date of Sunday, Dec. 15.

With the acquisition, St. Christopher’s will return to being a not-for-profit organization.

“We are grateful for the continuing dedication and hard work of the physicians and employees at St. Christopher’s,” said Clint Matthews, president and CEO of Tower Health. “We are excited about a bright future for St. Christopher’s as it continues to serve as a center for healthcare, medical education and research, and innovation.”

Over 30,000 children go to St. Christopher’s for primary and specialty care annually, according to Tower Health. 70,000 children are served annually by the hospital’s emergency department.

St. Christopher’s will also be an educational location for Drexel’s third and fourth-year medical students and their hospital-based clinical rotations in pediatrics.

Tower Health and Drexel University entered into the $50 million agreement to acquire St. Christopher’s in September.

Cultural healing: Reading Hospital turns to Alvernia University to help employees offer care sensitive to patients’ backgrounds

Researchers and health care providers at Reading Hospital have found an important key to improving patient care. Cultural awareness.

The city’s multi-cultural make up presents unique challenges for health care providers, who must relate to patients from different backgrounds on a very personal level.

It is not unusual for a doctor, nurse or aide to treat a recent immigrant from the Middle East, a transgender person or a person who holds strict conservative religious beliefs, all in one day.

And each of these patients will have a different perspective on how they want to be treated.

This makes cultural awareness, or the ability of health care providers to meet the cultural and social needs of their patients, a necessity.

To address this need, the hospital, Tower Health’s flagship in Reading, developed and launched its Cultural Awareness Program this year.

The catalyst was a needs assessment survey three years ago, said Desha Dickson, associate vice president of community wellness at Reading Hospital. The survey helps the hospital determine what it’s doing right, and what needs to be improved.

Desha Dickson, associate vice president of community wellness at Reading Hospital – submitted

“Cultural awareness was something that the community members identified as a barrier to care,” Dixon said. “Some felt they were not being understood, or that their religion was not being respected.”

The realization that improving staff understanding of patients’ cultures would improve how they respond to treatment, Reading set out to educate their staff. First, they sought to find a partner to help develop a curriculum. They found that ally in Reading’s Alvernia University, which has been training student nurses on cultural awareness for nearly two decades.

Together, over the span of six months, they developed a 10-hour cultural awareness course.

The program is broken into two four-hour classroom sessions, in addition to two hours of at-home prep work. The classes cover how to be culturally aware when it comes to a patient’s nutrition, spirituality, family roles, and more.

Staff are also exposed to hypothetical situations designed to invite discussion, Dixon said.

“There might be a vegan who does not want their meal prepared on the same grill as a steak,” she said, “or a member of the LGBTQ community who prefers to be addressed by a specific pronoun. … There might be different remedies for pain in different cultures.”

The classes “opened everyone’s eyes” to different solutions, she said. “It was exactly the type of conversation we wanted.”

Delivering culturally sensitive care is about awareness, Dixon said.

“How do we become aware? she asked. “Ask questions. It is as simple as that.”

A health care provider might ask a patient if they need space for prayer, or what pronoun they would like to be addressed with.

Karen Thacker, dean of professional programs at Alvernia University – submitted

Karen Thacker, dean of professional programs at Alvernia, and Dr. Greg Chown, associate professor of occupational therapy at Alvernia, worked on the questions staff are using.

“Questions like that aim to help health care providers attain better cultural understanding,” Thacker said.

Thacker helped create the curriculum for the program, while Chown taught the course.

“Reading Hospital approached us and we were confident we could do this,” Thacker said. “For me, it is the partnership between the hospital and Alvernia that shines through the whole process. There is so much back and forth. The hospital and academics both had input and that is what made the program highly effective.”

As for Chown, it was the experience of teaching the course itself that stood out. “The students were engaged and that made it fun to teach,” he said. “We had a great dialogue. It was a diverse group, and that’s important too. There were employees from all levels in the class, from physicians to housekeepers. We all need to learn how to be more culturally aware.”

Dr. Greg Chown, associate professor of occupational therapy at Alvernia University –

There are three basics hallmarks to achieving greater cultural understanding, he said: Be open. Ask questions. And travel, read and experience different cultures.

“Different cultures experience things differently,” he said. “And we hope to bridge that gap so that patients can receive better care.”

So far, 300 hospital employees have completed the program, according to Dickson. All of the employees were paid for their course time and each received a certificate of completion upon its end.

“We didn’t simply collect research so that pages of study would sit on a shelf,” Dickson said. “We reacted to the information that we found. The program is a clear example of saying ‘We heard you,’ and ‘We are using what you told us as an opportunity to learn and grow.’”






Tower Health opens UPMC Health Plan Connect Center in Wyomissing

Tower Health, the Berks County-based health network, has opened a new Tower Health-UPMC Health Plan Connect Center inside the Berkshire Mall in Wyomissing. Designed to help consumers with their health insurance questions, individuals and current members can meet one-on-one with associates at the new location, which is open during regular mall hours.

The new site is on the first floor inside the mall at 1665 State Hill Road.

“Providing local customer service inside the Berkshire Mall makes it even easier for residents of Berks and the surrounding counties to learn more about their health care options and discuss the best coverage available to them,” said Clint Matthews, president & CEO at Tower Health, in a news release.

The Berkshire Mall Connect Center marks the 10th UPMC Health Plan Connect Center location and the first location in Berks County.

The UPMC Insurance Services Division is owned by UPMC, a health care provider and insurer based in Pittsburgh.




Most area hospitals score well in latest Leapfrog safety rating

The Leapfrog Group, a national nonprofit organization focused on improving hospital safety, released their biannual safety ratings of the nation’s hospitals Nov. 7. The Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grade ratings, released as grades from A to F, reflect how well hospitals protect patients from accidents, errors, injuries, infections and other harms. The majority of area hospitals received A grades, while a few earned B, C, and even D ratings.

The safety score is designed to give the public information that is useful for choosing a hospital for care.

Here in the Lehigh Valley, Lehigh Valley Health Network’s hospitals at Pocono, Hazleton, and Cedar Crest hospital all earned A grades, performing above average in most safety categories, while LVH Schuylkill received a B grade.

Easton Hospital in Easton, owned by Steward Health Care, earned a safety grade of C.

In the St. Luke’s University Health Network, the hospital campuses at Bethlehem, Allentown, Anderson, Monroe, Quakertown and Miners all were awarded the top grade of A, while St. Luke’s Sacred Heart achieved a B grade. St. Luke’s Gnaden Huetten campus, however, received a D, performing below average on preventing hospital errors and in other categories.

Pottstown Hospital, a Tower Health-owned hospital in Pottstown, was also given a D rating. The hospital performed below average on preventing hospital errors, and had higher rates of some surgery complications, including dangerous blood clots.

In Berks County, Reading Hospital was awarded the A safety grade, while St. Joseph Medical Center earned a C.

The Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grade uses 28 measures of publicly available hospital safety data to assign grades to more than 2,600 U.S. acute-care hospitals, who voluntarily participate free of charge.

The Leapfrog safety grade’s scoring methodology is peer-reviewed and designed to be fully transparent. The results, free to the public, are available to view here-https://www.hospitalsafetygrade.org/your-hospitals-safety-grade