PENNSYLVANIA — The mission of 60 PA Department of Health (DOH) state health centers is to prevent possible epidemics by offering services to deal with such illnesses as tuberculosis and HIV. The centers also provide services to residents who are ill and have no health insurance.
Governor Tom Corbett announced earlier this year that he planned to close 26 of the centers, including the one in Pike County, and also eliminate 73 jobs in the DOH. Corbett claims the move will save the state over $3 million a year, but critics say the risk of an epidemic occurring, which would wipe out any savings, is too great to make the move viable.
In April, the Service Employees International Union Healthcare PA (SEIU), and some Democratic lawmakers took the matter to court, charging that Corbett does not have the authority to make such a move without going through the legislature. The lower court judge disagreed with that position and said the closures could move forward.
The Corbett administration then moved forward with the plan, closed centers in three western counties, and laid off 18 DOH. SEIU and the lawmakers appealed to the Supreme Court, asking that the court temporarily block any further closures and layoffs, re-establish the state health centers that were closed and restore the positions of the employees that were laid off.
On July 17, the high court granted the injunction, and according to an SEIU press release, “The Supreme Court’s order issues a broad ruling, granting all parts of SEIU Healthcare PA’s request.”
“We are thrilled by the judgment of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in deciding to grant temporary injunction against the closure of our state health centers,” said Joe Donahue, a DOH school nurse consultant whose position was eliminated in May. “Although we are still waiting for the full implications of the court’s ruling, this decision marks an important step towards protecting public health and ensuring community access. The PA Supreme Court has ruled on behalf of the public interest to stop yet another over-reach by the Corbett Administration.”
As for the center in Pike County, DOH spokesperson Aimee Tysarczyk wrote in an email, “The Pike County state health center office was planned for a move to Monroe County. Under the department’s state health center modernization plan, services will still be available in Pike County even if the office moves. Services will be provided through regularly scheduled events in the community close to where people live and work, such as at community centers or schools, to provide easier and increased access to these services. We will also provide services at home, as needed, such as tuberculosis services. No one will have to leave Pike County to receive services. We are by no means going away.”