PHILADELPHIA — On Wednesday, March 12th, SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania along with State Senators Tim Solobay (D-46) and John Wozniak (D-35) and State Representatives Michael Hanna (D-76), Ted Harhai (D-58) and Pam Snyder (D-50) presented oral arguments before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in its continued efforts to halt the Corbett Administration’s plans to close Department of Health state health centers and furlough community health nurses across Pennsylvania.
Back in July, the PA Supreme Court granted a temporary injunction that blocked the state from closing additional centers. Despite SEIU Healthcare PA’s attempts to reach a settlement over the last few months, the case proceeded to the PA Supreme Court.
Now the union is looking to the Supreme Court to a) reverse an April ruling by the Commonwealth Court that denied an injunction and 2) to issue its own preliminary injunction that will require the state to re-open the 15 state health centers already closed and reinstate furloughed community health nurses pending a full hearing.
“Although we may not get a ruling for some time, we are encouraged the PA Supreme Court took the initial step to temporarily halt the Corbett Administration’s plans to close half the state’s health centers and eliminate nearly one in six community health nurse positions across the state,” said Kevin Hefty, SEIU Healthcare PA State Sector Vice President, “Now it is up to the PA Supreme Court to put a permanent stop to these plans that put public health at risk.”
In its oral arguments, SEIU Healthcare PA re-asserted that the Corbett administration’s plans were illegal, violating 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.” Additionally, the Governor and Executive branch violated the Pennsylvania Constitution by bypassing the legislature in order to amend state law.
In response, the Department of Health countered their plan did not reduce services required by Act 87, despite acknowledging only 34 health centers would remain after what it termed its modernization plan took effect.
Not only do these plans violate Act 87, they will impact the health and wellness of communities across the state that benefit from the services state health centers and community health nurses provide. Counties that have already lost a state health center or a community health nurse are already feeling the effect.
“Maintaining and promoting public health requires community health nurses and state health centers to operate on a local level,” said Fred Oberholtzer, a community health nurse from Adams County. “Certain diseases like tuberculosis cannot be managed from a distance. Instead, they require a local presence to monitor ongoing conditions and assess individual patient concerns. Requiring nurses to travel extended distances to treat such diseases not only places a burden on patients, it puts public health at risk. We need to invest more in public health, not less.”
Currently,15 state health centers have been shuttered, with nine additional slated for closure, and 22 community health nurse positions have been eliminated, with seven community health nurses laid off and the remaining nurse positions moved into existing vacancies. If the Supreme Court grants the union’s appeal this may require the state to reopen those health centers and reinstate the eliminated nurse positions pending a full hearing.