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Emergency ballots, hospital staff make voting possible for Penn State Health St. Joseph patients

A patient arrived at Penn State Health St. Joseph early on Election Day for what she thought would be an in-and-out procedure. She planned to stop by her polling place to vote when she was finished, but the procedure turned out to be a bigger deal than she thought and she ended up being admitted to the hospital.

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The patient was distraught at the thought of not being able to vote in an important election, but hospital employees stepped up to help. Due to their knowledge and determination, that patient and six others were able to cast their votes using emergency ballots.

“They were all grateful that they got to vote,” said Rochelle Stambaugh, an administrative assistant at St. Joseph’s who also is a Pennsylvania Licensed Notary Public and was involved with the voting procedure.

In Pennsylvania, a person who is unexpectedly ill, hospitalized or disabled qualifies to cast an emergency ballot. The process of doing so, however, is not easy.

Each St. Joseph’s patient was required to complete an emergency application for an absentee ballot. Once filled out, each application had to be signed by a physician, who specified the illness or disability of the patient.

Stambaugh then had to confirm that the physician who signed each application was, indeed, employed by the hospital. After that, the applications could be taken to the office of Berks County Election Services for review. Once approved, an absentee ballot was issued and the patient was able to vote. After the vote was cast, the ballot had to be returned to Election Services in order to be counted.

“It was a pretty complicated procedure that took a good bit of time,” Stambaugh said. “I was all over the hospital yesterday.”

Because a courier was not immediately available, Director of Security Daniel Billings stepped up to transport some of the applications and ballots to and from the hospital and the Elections Services office.

“He made it possible for those patients to vote by delivering the applications and bringing the ballots back,” Stambaugh said. “I thought that was a really thoughtful thing for him to do.”

While the provision is in place for Pennsylvania for patients to obtain an emergency ballot, only a handful of hospitals have a system in place to enable it to happen, according to a recent article by Marketplace’s Health Desk senior reporter Dan Gorenstein.

Based on federal data on admissions and visits to emergency departments, it’s estimated that about 222,000 patients would have been admitted to a hospital following a visit to the ED in the five days prior to Election Day. The average length of their stay was set at five days, meaning that if the patient had not voted early, which is not an option in Pennsylvania, he or she most likely would not have had an opportunity to vote.

“I’m proud that St. Joseph’s can make it possible for patients to be able to cast their ballots,” Stambaugh said. “We know that every vote counts.”