Harrisburg PA – On Monday, April 1st, 2013, as the country honors National Public Health Week, SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania along with State Senators Tim Solobay (D-46) and John Wozniak (D-35) and State Representatives Michael Hanna (D-76), Ted Herhai (D-58) and Pam Snyder (D-50) filed a lawsuit against the Corbett Administration on the grounds that its plan to close 26 public state health centers and eliminate 73 Department of Health positions including 26 community health nurses violates both Pennsylvania law as well as its Constitution.
The lawsuit alleges that the Corbett’s Administration’s plan to shutter 26 public health centers and furlough 26 community health nurses:
- Violates the mandates of Act 87 passed in 1996 which requires the DOH to “operate those public State health centers and provide at a minimum those public health services in effect as of July 1, 1995.”
- Violates the Pennsylvania Constitution, which bars the Governor and executive branch from suspending laws enacted by the legislature. Therefore Governor Corbett and the DOH lack the legal authority to close state health centers as per Act 87 or any other provision of state law without approval by the state legislature.
- Violates Act 9A of 2012 in which the legislature set funding for the operation of the 60 health centers and for the district nurse positions as provided in the current 2012-2013 state budget. Corbett’s proposal to reduce funding for the operation of state health centers and staffing in his 2013-14 budget has not been approved by the General Assembly.
In February, the Corbett administration’s announced plan to close 26 state health centers and relocate those nurses to health centers in neighboring counties was slated to occur in two phases (phase 1 would affect 7 state health centers on March 29th and phase 2 would close an additional 19 by May 31.) In addition, 73 DOH employees including 26 community health nurses that work in the district offices would see their positions eliminated by March 29.
Almost immediately DOH nurses began talking to their legislators and the public about the risks of such a move; the closing of 26 health centers and elimination of 73 positions would impair the ability of the DOH to respond in time of a public health crisis or natural disaster and reduce the ability of certain populations to access health services.
“Program nurse consultants who work in the district offices provide support to the state health centers in their area of expertise as well as in public health emergencies, ” said Joanne Namey, Program Nurse Consultant from the Northeast District . “Our state already ranks very low in the number of public health professionals as it is, without the nurse consultants, our capacity for emergency preparedness will be even lower.”
Additionally, Governor Corbett says his consolidation plan will save the state approximately $3.4 million dollars but the true costs of a public health crisis could quickly eclipse such savings.
“For months we have been educating the public and our legislators that the proposed savings from Governor Corbett’s plan does not justify the potential public health risk for communities across Pennsylvania,” said Rosemary Birt, a community health nurse from Lebanon County, “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.”
As a result of increasing public and legislative pressure, the Corbett Administration announced in March that the furloughs would be postponed to May 3 and phase 1 closings would be postponed to from May 13 – 17. The lawsuit seeks to have the court issue a preliminary injunction order pending a trial and a permanent injunction against the plan thereafter.
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The Service Employees International Union Healthcare Pennsylvania is the state’s largest and fastest growing union of health care workers, representing over 20,000 nurses, technicians, nursing assistants, and support staff in hospitals, nursing homes and public institutions across the Commonwealth.
SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania is committed to improving the lives of health care workers and ensuring quality, affordable health care for all Pennsylvanians.