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Gov. Wolf visits Hershey Medical Center, thanks staff for efforts fighting COVID-19

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Alison Enimpah remembers recently discharging a patient who had a stroke.

As members of the Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center staff put her in a wheelchair, the woman hugged Enimpah.

“Even though it’s not something that’s recommended, it just felt right. We knew it’s a reminder of such meaningful work of everyone involved,” she said.

Enimpah is a nursing member of the center’s special pathogens team. She works in the COVID-19 unit and shared her experiences during a press conference June 24 with Gov. Tom Wolf at the center.

The special pathogens team started five years ago in response to Ebola. The team continued to meet every three months, making sure they knew how to properly don personal protective equipment and examining the center’s policies and procedures.

“Our task was, truly, we were going to have to make it happen, and I’m very proud to say that I think we did in a very fluid and dynamic way,” she said.

As of Tuesday, Hershey Medical Center had discharged 188 COVID-19 patients. It has completed 13,258 tests, with 95 percent negative results. It has had 16 patients die from the coronavirus. It was treating 11 coronavirus patients Tuesday, with 2 in the intensive care unit and 1 on a ventilator.

Wolf said he came to the center to showcase the work of people on the front lines of the pandemic.

Wolf recalled being at the medical center a year ago to thank nursing staff.

“None of us knew at that point what you were going to be facing, what we were all going to be facing just a few months later. Now you have come through a real onerous, tough period of time,” Wolf said.

He said they were asked to continue providing a high standard of care while trying to keep themselves and their colleagues safe.

“You were on the front lines of this real struggle. I said ‘thank you’ then, and the thank you I’m saying today is even more heartfelt,” Wolf said. “All of us really appreciate the work you did to keep us safe through this pandemic.”

He recognized numerous departments, ranging from the members of the special pathogens team to the cleaning crews who kept the facilities clean and sterile.

Secretary of Health Rachel Levine said the efforts of staff, nurses, doctors, EMTs, and first-responders helped save lives “under the most difficult, extraordinary circumstances.”

Deborah Berini, president of the center, said the special pathogens team had worked on mitigating risks from the virus since as early as January, including adapting policies and operations.

She called it a “Herculean collective and collaborative effort.” She credited staff, some of whom were present, with Penn State Health’s ability to adapt.

“Today, our work continues not only to ensure that we can treat our current COVID-19 positive patients and that we’re ready for any further surge, but also to make sure that every patient who receives care can safely and confidently receive that care with us,” Berini said.

Routine clinic appointments, health care screenings, surgeries and other clinical activities have resumed after four months.

The pandemic highlighted the importance of collaborations, and Berini said the medical center and Penn State College of Medicine partnered with the state Department of Health, working with and supporting regional nursing homes and long-term-care facilities in their COVID-19 response.

Levine announced a new partnership with CVS Health to assist with universal testing. Starting this week, up to 50,000 tests for nursing homes staff and residents will be administered.

Wolf said Pennsylvania has seen a downward trend of cases, thanks to leadership at the state level and efforts from medical personnel such as the Penn State staff who are on the front lines.

“Whatever it is in the fall, I think we can face with a lot more confidence and do things a lot differently than we did in the March, April, May and parts of June period,” Wolf said.

The state can take advantage of resources it didn’t have then, including testing and contact tracing, Wolf said.

Pennsylvanians must keep wearing masks, practice social distancing, and stay home when they don’t feel well, he said. Get tested, Levine said. All of that will help the state face the virus if it spikes in the fall.

Wolf and Levine emphasized the importance of wearing a mask.

“By wearing a mask, we are not just protecting ourselves and others from exposure to COVID-19, but we’re actually really saying thank you to you — to the brave health care professionals who are working every night and day to literally save our lives,” Levine said.