PA's Highest Court Stops Public Health Center Closures ... For Now

Jul 19, 2013

Gov. Tom Corbett’s plans to shut down 26 of the state’s 60 public health centers has been put on hold after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted a temporary injunction Wednesday.

The state’s Department of Health said closing almost half of Pennsylvania’s health centers that provide services such as immunizations and disease testing would save $3.4 million.

But the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Healthcare Pennsylvania argued doing so would cut 26 nursing jobs, and the state couldn’t close the centers without state legislature approval. 

The state’s highest court agreed to block the closing pending a full hearing.

Neal Bisno, President of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, said the Corbett administration’s priorities are “backwards.”

“We certainly hope that the Corbett administration will take a step back and reconsider their approach” Bisno said. 

Bisno suggests the state work with state nurses and union officials to develop a plan to make positive changes to the public health system, rather than eliminate locations that Pennsylvanians depend on.

The centers marked for shutdown are all in rural areas, and if eliminated, Bisno says it would leave those communities without some local health services. Bisno described public health centers as the  “foundation” of the public health infrastructure in the state.

“They are the eyes and ears of the public health infrastructure in the communities,” Bisno said. “They do as great deal of basic education and preventative health work, so they really are the front line of public health in many, many parts of the state."

County health centers marked for closure or combined with other centers included Armstrong, Beaver and Greene.

Department of Health spokeswoman, Aimee Tysarczyk, said in an e-mail statement that "[t]here is a misperception that exists that if a bricks and mortar building is not there, that our services are gone. That is not the case at all." 

She added an increased level of the same services would be provided at the new, combined locations.  Tysarczyk also said the 1980's model of 60 health centers in the state is outdated.  

"A lot has happened in that time including changes in technology, the delivery of public health, in healthcare, the way we work together and communicate with our peers, friends, family and neighbors."