For Immediate Release: November 21, 2014
Harrisburg – On Thursday, November 20, 2014 PA Supreme Court ruled that the Corbett Administration must reverse course on its plans to close nearly half the state’s public health centers and must “cease reducing the number of Centers, reestablish Centers in counties in which they have been unlawfully closed, cease reducing the level of public health services, and restore the level of public health services to that which existed on July 1, 1995.”
Back in April, 2013, 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) filed a lawsuit 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.
“I decided to become a plaintiff in this lawsuit for the same reason I became a public health nurse in the first place: to protect the public health and safety of Carbon County citizens,” said Melanie Zeigler, a community health nurse in the Carbon County Health Center who was relocated to Lehigh County. “Each day community health nurses are working hard behind the scenes to provide services that protect public health. I am thrilled that this decision will put us back in our communities where we belong.”
The decision written by Justice Baer, in which Chief Justice Castille, and Justices Saylor, Todd and Stevens joined the opinion, finds Corbett’s plan:
1) Violates Act 87 – The court ruled that the Corbett Administration’s plan violated 1996’s Act 87 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,” explaining: “The General Assembly has never seen fit to eliminate the mandate that the DOH operate the same number of Centers and provide the same level of public health services that existed in July of 1995.. If a radical restructuring of the provision of public health services is to occur in this Commonwealth, the General Assembly, and not the Executive Branch, must make the necessary determination.”
2) Causes Immediate and Irreparable Harm –The court also decided that the Corbett Administration‘s plan would case ‘immediate and irreparable harm” to the citizens of Pennsylvania. “It is undisputed that the Executive Branch proposes to close more than one-third of the existing sixty Centers and to furlough twenty-six nurse consulting positions… It is clear that such action will reduce the number of Centers and the level of public health services in direct contravention of the plain language of Section 1403(c)(1) [Act 87]. Accordingly, we conclude that SEIU has demonstrated immediate and irreparable harm.” It further found that an injunction will protect the public, “as it will assure that the minimum health services mandated by the Legislature will continue to be available to the recipients of those services.”
As a result of this decision, the Corbett Administration must open health centers in the following counties: Potter, Carbon, Mifflin, Fulton, Somerset, Beaver, Blair, Snyder, Armstrong, Greene, Clinton, Pike, Susquehanna, Columbia, and Union and the state health center in Monnessen in Westmoreland County. For the citizens of Pennsylvanians, the decision marks a critically important step to ensure there are an adequate number of public health professionals in a state that already ranks 43rd for per capita state public health spending and 47th for federal funding by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) according to a 2013study by Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation .
“I have been with the Department of Health for a long time and was heavily involved with the passage of Act 87. As a result, I felt the Corbett Administration’s plan could be challenged,” said Joanne Namey, a plaintiff and a Tobacco Nurse Consultant in the Northeast District Office whose position was eliminated. “For too long, Pennsylvania’s public health infrastructure has been underfunded. Rather than deplete our ability to respond to public health issues, we need to renew and expand services. We hope this Court ruling and a new Administration will set a new standard for public health services across the Commonwealth.”
Read the Supreme Court ruling here: http://www.pacourts.us/assets/opinions/Supreme/out/J-15-2014mo%20-%201020176182833431.pdf?cb=1