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There are currently 60 health care centers across Pennsylvania where people who have illnesses or injuries but don't have the money for treatment can go for care. The Corbett administration is now planning to close nearly half of them before summer's end, but the Service Employees International Union Healthcare Pennsylvania is suing to halt the closures on the grounds that the PA Constitution requires such a policy to be passed by the PA Legislature. All this is happening as Pennsylvania ranks among the lowest states in the nation in state government spending on public health and the West Nile virus is on the rise in the commonwealth. Because who needs community nurses when there's just a little West Nile going around, right, Corbett?

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett
PA Gov. Tom Corbett
A recent study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that Pennsylvania ranked 47th out of 50 states for having nearly the lowest amount of state spending on public health per person. The state with the most public health spending is Hawaii, which spends $154 per person. Public health spending in the median state is $27 per person. In Pennsylvania, we only spend $14 per person. That is a truly dismal figure, and it says a lot about how much we fail to take care of one another. Any conservatives fretting about class warfare should be livid about this, because another recent study found that the healthiest county in PA is also its wealthiest county, showing, in case common sense wasn't sufficient, that the wealthy are going to take care of themselves regardless of public health spending, and those on the chopping block of closing health centers are the most vulnerable and in the most dire need among us.

The plan being pushed by Governor Corbett would close 26 health centers and eliminate 73 jobs in the PA Department of Health. $20 million per year is spent on the system as it is now, and these changes would only save $3.4 million - but there are also potentially major costs involved. Community health nurse of Lebanon County Rosemary Birt, says:

For months we have been educating our lawmakers that the proposed savings from Governor Corbett's plan does not justify the potential public health risk for communities across Pennsylvania. It could take as little as twelve cases of multi-drug resistant Tuberculosis to wipe out the three and a half million dollars Corbett claims we would save by closing these centers.
Former PA Secretary of Aging Linda Rhodes also had something to say about the potential cost of this policy. I've abbreviated her words below but I highly recommend anyone interested in this topic check out her full op-ed.
[M]embers of the public never hear about the public health crises [health centers have] averted throughout the state’s counties.

These include: preventing the spread of a Hepatitis A outbreak among 30 kindergarteners; containing the nation’s largest Hepatitis A outbreak that claimed three lives and over 650 confirmed cases by immunizing more than 9,500 people; discovering the cause of a rise in infant deaths and educating new parents to prevent it; organizing a dental clinic in response to adults and children showing up in emergency rooms with painful abscesses; identifying and treating an exchange student with tuberculosis, thus, avoiding exposure of an entire high school; providing mass immunizations against the H1N1 influenza; halting the spread of HIV Aids and a syphilis outbreak at two local colleges; and thwarting the spread of whooping cough by immunizing 700 employees at a local plant.

These real-world Pennsylvania examples are the tip of the iceberg.

Community health nurses also stand ready to protect the public’s health following weather disasters, rabies exposures and food-borne illnesses. Nursing homes, day care centers, colleges, schools, clinics, senior centers, hospitals and local doctor’s offices rely on the “eyes and ears” of community health nurse’s to alert and advise them on emerging public health issues.

They are the backbone of outreach and public education to prevent injuries and address the never-ending incidence of heart disease, cancer, obesity and diabetes that plague our communities.

Today, the community health system that keeps you and your family safe and well is, itself, under threat. The Corbett administration euphemistically refers to the closing of state health centers as “consolidation” with neighboring counties.

It also plans to eliminate the jobs of nearly one out of every six public health nurses around the state – even though Pennsylvania already ranks dead last among states for public health employees per capita, with staffing levels one quarter of the national average.

No assessment or study has been released showing that Pennsylvania can absorb these cuts without endangering the public health.

Former Pennsylvania Secretary of Aging Linda Rhodes
Former Pennsylvania Secretary of Aging Linda Rhodes
With so much at stake in the real lives of Pennsylvanians, SEIU Healthcare PA is now suing the Corbett administration to stop this plan. The basis of the lawsuit, also supported by a handful of Democrats in the PA Legislature, is that Corbett's Department of Health cannot make these decisions unilaterally, there would have to be legislation passed in the PA House and PA Senate. A 1995 law mandates the ongoing operation of all 60 health centers, last year's budget continues funding for all of them through this fiscal year, and the PA Constitution prevents the governor and the executive branch from overruling laws enacted by the legislature.

This is a huge power-grab on the part of Corbett and his administration. Imagine after ObamaCare was signed into law, if President Obama said, you know what, I'm gonna go ahead and throw the public option in there anyway. It's a blatant violation of the way our government functions, getting further away from our representative democratic republic and closer to a dictatorship. I'll leave it to you to decide if Corbett is a tyrant, but there's no hiding what's he doing here behind euphemisms, he is over-stepping the bounds of the PA Constitution and attempting to make policy changes by himself without following the legal structure for how such policy changes are made. It's great that SEIU Healthcare PA is fighting this, and it's great that they're being backed up by some Democrats in the PA Legislature.

SEUI Healthcare PA logo
If all of this wasn't disturbing enough already, it turns out 2012 was a record year for incidences of West Nile virus in Pennsylvania. Last I checked, mosquitoes don't stop at county lines to ask whether or not the county they're flying into has a health center. And on top of all the other examples listed above, while we have people contracting West Nile virus at record rates, wouldn't it make sense to keep health services as widely accessible as possible? What about the families who can't afford to take someone to the doctor when they get sick? A sick person might not realize their symptoms could be from West Nile virus, and if they don't have the money to get it checked out, not only are they screwed, but their whole communities are put at risk. Let's hope, for the sake of all of us, that the lawsuit from SEIU Healthcare PA is successful and these lifelines for health services for those in need remain open.

If anyone is concerned about the health center in their county, you can check out this reporting by the Associated Press with a list:

Tysarczyk said the department could name only some of the health centers it wants to close because of agreements to notify the labor unions first. But she said health centers in Beaver, Blair, Carbon, Fulton, Mifflin, Potter and Somerset counties would close.

The union also said health centers in Adams, Armstrong, Clinton, Columbia, Crawford, Forest, Greene, Jefferson, Lawrence, McKean, Montour, Perry, Pike, Snyder, Susquehanna, Union, Wyoming counties would close, as would health centers in Monessen in Westmoreland County and Wilkes-Barre in Luzerne County.

Originally posted to ProgressivePatriotPA on Tue Apr 09, 2013 at 01:17 PM PDT.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions, DKos Pennsylvania, and Pittsburgh Area Kossacks.

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