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?
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.
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.
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.