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Penn State Hershey drops MS patients after losing four neurologists

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Penn State Hershey Medical Center dropped 2,100 multiple sclerosis patients from its neurology services after losing four neurologists in the past year. (File)

About 2,100 people with multiple sclerosis have lost their neurologists at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. 

Two neurologists retired and two others left for jobs outside the region, Penn State Health said. With only one remaining neurologist in the multiple sclerosis service, the hospital was unable to meet patient demand.

The health system apologized for informing patients by sending them letters. “We missed the mark this week with mailing it to our patients,” said spokesman Scott Gilbert in an email. 

Penn State is working to recruit new neurologists, Gilbert said. The hospital wants to provide multiple sclerosis care at its Hershey center and is working on a plan to make that happen.

The situation highlights a lack of medical specialists in parts of the state, said Dr. Michael Consuelos of the Hospital and Health System Association of Pennsylvania. Hospitals across the state have struggled to recruit enough specialists, who often tend toward working in cities.

“These are chronic conditions, which require long-term treatment or advise from a health care professional,” Consuelos said.  “So in cases where you don’t have enough neurologists in an area, that does create a huge backlog in care in that area.”

Neurologists aren’t the only specialty field showing a shortage, Consuelos said. Nephrologists, who specialize in kidney care, as well as rheumotologists and infectious disease specialists are also in need. 

He said rural areas have the toughest time filling these much-needed positions.

The problem of doctor shortages involves both limited funding for certain specialties and limited available slots in what medical students know as “the match,” a system that allows medical students to compete for all available residencies each year, Consuelos said. A recent push is underway to train more neurologists to help ease any potential shortages in care in the future.

Penn State Health plans to recruit more neurologists and continue providing multiple sclerosis care at Hershey Medical Center, Gilbert said. The hospital will be in touch with its former patients as more neurologists become available. In the meantime it is working to connect patients with specialists. 

As a note of disclosure, Transforming Health receives financial support from Penn State Health.