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Department of Corrections to Close SCI Pittsburgh

Today, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections announced it will close SCI Pittsburgh in order to make up for major budget shortfalls caused by lack of revenue. SCI Pittsburgh currently employs a total of 555 people, including 16 nurses. Nearly 1,900 inmates will need to be transferred to other facilities.

“It’s a disgrace that the politicians in Harrisburg didn’t find revenue needed to keep our institutions functioning when the money is out there. Instead of taking it out on the middle class working people they should be making sure big corporations are paying their fair share,” said Vista Johnson, a nurse at SCI Mercer. Johnson, a member of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, has been dreading this day since the Department of Corrections first made the announcement. The list of possible closures included SCI Mercer, where Johnson has been a nurse for eight years.

“I appreciate that the Wolf Administration and DOC have been put into a very difficult position because of the failure of Republican leadership, but its unclear if this move will actually save us any money in the long run,” said Kevin Hefty, a Vice President of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, the union that represents nurses employed by the Department of Corrections. “SCI Pittsburgh’s proximity to health facilities allows the Commonwealth to treat some very sick inmates at a lower cost. It has an oncology unit and those inmates, if transferred, would likely need to travel to Pittsburgh hospitals for treatment. Closing Pittsburgh means transferring these expensive inmates to other facilities that may not have the capacity or experience with such a challenging population. Any short-term savings will likely be offset by longer-term per inmate costs in the receiving institutions.”

Union leaders will be begin meetings with Office of Administration and Department of Corrections officials Monday to discuss how SCI Pittsburgh staff will be impacted and placements rights to other jobs.

If you have any questions, please contact Mike Forbes at

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Commonwealth Nurses Won’t Take Closures Sitting Down

PA state nurses committee

As longtime commonwealth employees, the complicated budget process is nothing new to us, but this year, we’re facing an impossible situation.

But first, let’s be clear. We strongly oppose the closure of any state institutions, but thanks to years of Republican obstructionism and refusal to look at increasing revenue, these decisions have been nearly unavoidable.

How did we get here? For two years, Governor Wolf has tried to create a responsible budget that deals with the serious budget deficits and funds the services everyone in Pennsylvania needs.

But rather than do the real work governing requires, over and over again, Republicans in the General Assembly have obstinately refused to even consider raising the revenue we need. Instead, they seem far more interested in protecting tax loopholes for big business and the fracking industry than what happens to the rest of us.

Now it’s up to Governor Wolf – and the people of Pennsylvania – to figure out how to deal with a massive budget shortfall without adding to the suffering of our most vulnerable citizens and communities. This means some state prisons and hospitals are facing closure to fix the budget holes.

To make sure we make the best of a bad situation, SEIU HCPA is actively engaged in the restructuring process to make sure your voice is heard and our patients and affected colleagues will be protected.

What We’re Doing:

Last week, member meetings were held at Hamburg Center and Norristown State Hospital to discuss the news of closures.  We also convened a conference call for nurses at the five prisons under consideration for closure.  Among the topics discussed were the impact that closures will have on patients and inmates, future job opportunities for affected nurses, and our plan as a Union for responding to this news.

Yesterday, SEIU HCPA VP, Kevin Hefty testified in Harrisburg about the prison closures and next week union leaders and members will testify at  hospital closure hearings to urge policymakers to reconsider these decisions.

We’ll say it again. We strongly oppose the closure of any state institutions, but thanks to years of Republican obstructionism and refusal to look at increasing revenue, these decisions have been nearly impossible to avoid.

If these closures are inevitable, it is vital we are there every step of the way to make sure we are standing up for good union jobs and our most vulnerable patients and communities.

What You Can Do:

While the financial difficulties facing the state are immense, the Republican-led legislature should be leading us by working with the Governor’s Office to explore new revenue sources such as a responsible tax on Marcellus Shale production and reforming the tax code to ensure that corporations pay their fair share.

Contact your representatives to tell them the impact their decisions will have on your patients, you and your colleagues and your communities. Your expertise and personal stories are powerful – make sure your voices are heard.

Attend closure hearings in Hamburg Center and Norristown. There will be two hearings next week to hear from the community about the closings. We need to show up and make a stand. Plan to attend, bring your colleagues, friends, families and neighbors, sign up to speak, call your representatives. This is the time to act.

Hamburg Center Closure Hearing

Monday, January 30, 1pm-4pm

Hamburg Borough Building

Norristown Hospital Closure Hearing

Tuesday, January 31 2pm-5pm

Norristown State Hospital, Building 33

If you have any questions about how to get involved, please contact Neal Manning at

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Happy Nurses Week! Meet Mariagorathy Opokwu, RN

Part five of our week-long series highlighting some of the amazing nurses of the Nurse Alliance of SEIU Pennsylvania.

Mariagorathy Opokwu, RN at Southeastern Veterans Center.

Mariagorathy Opokwu, RN at Southeastern Veterans Center.

Mariagorathy Opokwu loves her stories. Well, not her stories, but the stories her residents tell her.

“So many stories!” she exclaimed.

As an RN at Southeastern Veterans Center in Spring City, Mariagorathy (“Maria” to her friends) has access to an endless supply thanks to the dozens of veterans she cares for each day.

“I have 32 residents that I take care of every day,” Maria explained. “They live here. This is their home.”

When you care for someone in such an intimate setting, it’s no surprise that bonds form.

“I know them very well,” Maria said of the residents she cares for. “You get attached to them.”

And those attachments grow from all of those stories. Maria’s residents regularly share details of their lives with her – before their illnesses, their time in the service.

“Yes, oh my god,” she said. “So many stories.”

One of those attachments is one of Maria’s favorite storytellers.

“I’m taking care of an aero engineer,” she said. “Smart guy. He used to be a lecturer. He used to teach, but he was also an aero engineer. He flew planes during the war.”

But it’s not all stories and bonding at the veterans center. This is a medical facility and there are people who need caring for.

“It’s hectic,” Maria admits. “Very hectic.”

But that doesn’t seem to slow her down.

Maria cites her family as her influence when it comes to her nursing career. Her first role model for caregiver was her mom.

“I watched her when I was back home [in Nigeria],” Maria said. “She would take care of people even though she wasn’t’ a nurse. I learned that from her. I was taking care of everybody in my home before I came to the United States.”

Maria came to the states in 1986 and once here, she found additional motivation when her husband  took ill.

“What pushed me to do it was my husband,” Maria said of her path to a nursing career. “When my husband got ill. He had kidney failure, and it made me study harder.”

While Maria loves her job, she concedes that nursing takes a toll on both body and soul.

“Not taking care of my own self,” she proclaimed, when asked about the downside to her chosen career.

In fact, Maria found it difficult to set aside time to talk to the Nurse Alliance for Nurses Week thanks to a brutal cold she suffered through for almost a week.

“We don’t take care of our own selves and we don’t have time for our families,” Maria said of her fellow nurses. “Even when you try to schedule for it, you won’t get it because we don’t have enough people working.”

“If we could have enough time for ourselves, that would be wonderful,” she added. “But we don’t get it.”

When she does find time to step away from the bedside, Maria enjoys her family life with her husband and four kids as well as a host of brothers and sisters who live in Maryland. Her mother passed away a few short years ago and she was able to take a trip back home to Nigeria last year for a memorial.

And if she did ever find that extra time to herself?

She would use it to see more of the world.

“I love to travel, but I haven’t done that for years,” she lamented. “I love traveling to different places. That’s my hobby. If I can get to do that it would be the best thing ever. I’ve been to Dubai, I’ve been to London and I’ve been to most of the United States – California, Huston, Detroit, Michigan, South Carolina, North Carolina, Atlanta. I love to go places!”

And perhaps when she returns, she can share her stories with the residents she cares for so deeply.

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Union’s Supreme Court Victory Bears Fruit

Department of Health posting jobs to implement Court’s ruling

The Department of Health (DOH) has begun to post new Population Health positions — a victory a long time in the making.

After winning a Pennsylvania Supreme Court case to bring nurses back to work, there remained 14 open positions original nurses did not want to return to fill. We met and discussed the issue with the Commonwealth, focusing on how to change the primary mission of those consultant positions to best address the needs of the public.

We reached agreement in November to post one position as a School Nurse Consultant based in the Northeastern District, bringing the complement of School Nurse Consultants to three — one in the East, Central, and Western parts of the state.

The remaining 13 positions will be a newly-created title of Population Health Consultant. This position has flexibility to focus not just on general issues impacting public health, but on the specific needs of different districts and parts of the state. We have finalized the districts where these positions will be located based on population and workload needs and the DOH has begun posting them.

The DOH is also re-opening state health centers but progress has been slow where the Department of General Services has to find new space, negotiate new leases, and then complete additional construction to make the new space usable.

We have reviewed the status and every county but one has a new location and is in the process of finalizing leases. Carbon County remains a challenge in finding a new location for the state health center. New locations save the Commonwealth money by reconfiguring and using less space. We discussed some concerns nurses have with the smaller layout and reached agreements on fixing some key concerns.

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Members Hold Meet & Discuss with Department of Corrections

In December, we held a statewide “Meet & Discuss” with the Department of Corrections (DOC). Many members were able to participate in the meeting through the DOC’s video conferencing system.

The DOC began the meeting discussing the contract with Correct Care Solutions. This contract for the management of prison health services has, in the past, included the option of providing nursing services. This year it did not. The new contract is for five years with five additional one-year renewal options which they believe puts off the possibility of privatization for 10 years.

Prior to meeting, we asked for information about vacancies and staffing at prisons across the state. Statewide the vacancy rate is 11% and some facilities have major problems:

  • SCI Muncy has a 31% vacancy rate;
  • SCI Camp Hill is at 30%;
  • SCI Huntingdon is at 27%; and
  • Several other facilities are in double digits.

We discussed the importance of filling vacant positions and pointed to information showing that three positions have been vacant since 2013, four since 2014, and seven for more than six months of 2015. In all, there are 39 budgeted positions that need to be filled.

We also raised concerns about mandatory overtime and recruitment and retention issues in the DOC.

The DOC is open to moving to 12-hour shift schedules, which many nurses prefer and is especially helpful in rural areas where people have long commutes and would prefer to make that trip fewer days each week. SCI Forest has put together a 12-hour shift agreement and RNs are encouraged to create draft schedules and propose this at local labor-management meetings if interested.

We also discussed hiring more PRN positions and the possibility of creating a regional PRN pool. We raised the possibility of permitting nurses to pick up extra shifts at nearby facilities. While the preference would be to use the facility’s own nurses first, in instances where there are facilities with greater needs close to facilities with less-available overtime, it makes sense to encourage ways to fill shifts with volunteers.

The DOC will be holding a webinar with supervisory staff and plan to remind them of procedures to avoid mandatory overtime such as calling in agency staff and making all efforts to find volunteers first.

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UPDATE: Higher Wages at Warren State

Nurses at Warren State Hospital raised their concerns about staffing and the difficulty in hiring new nurses in their rural location.

In January, the state recognized our concerns and agreed to increase the starting rate by hiring new nurses in at Step 5 instead of Step 1. This is a 9% increase in the hiring rate.

The state will also increase the pay of any current registered nurse to Step 5, ensuring that no new hire is paid more than an existing member of the union.

The state hires new RNs at Step 5 in several facilities where it is difficult to recruit new nurses. We have raised this idea at Meet & Discuss meetings for several other facilities and will continue to push where there is a documented need.

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Stand up for Safe Staffing this May 10!

On May 10, join nurses and other healthcare professionals in Harrisburg to tell elected leaders why we need safe staffing. LEARN MORE HERE!






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We Are All In This Together!

StateBU (1)

For years now, public employees and their organizations have been under attack across the country. Wisconsin’s assault on collective bargaining is only one of the recent more high-profile attacks. The U.S. Supreme Court has taken up a case by anti-union forces called

The U.S. Supreme Court has taken up a case by anti-union forces called Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. Oral Arguments were in held in January and all public reports are that they did not go well. It was anticipated that the Court’s decision would make the public sector “right to work” across the United States, meaning public employees would no longer be permitted to negotiate union security provisions to ensure that everyone pays their fair share.

However, the unexpected passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, expected to vote in favor of “right to work” interests, means the court is evenly divided on the issue. On March 29, the court announced that it was split 4-4 and so the case returns to the earlier appellate court which upholds our right to organize and the legality of fair share fees.

Though we may have dodged a legal bullet, attacks on working peoples’ right to organize continue across the country and other cases that target unions are winding their way through the courts.That’s why we have launched a campaign to go on offense. We’re reaching out to fee payers and urging them to sign up for full membership and stand with us as we fight for better pay and working conditions.

That’s why we have launched a campaign to go on offense. We’re reaching out to fee payers and urging them to sign up for full membership and stand with us as we fight for better pay and working conditions. Since August 2015, we have signed up 181 new members and the number of fee payers is down to 225.

Since August 2015, we have signed up 181 new members and the number of fee payers is down to 225.

We are also innovating with membership sign up technology, using voice recordings by telephone and electronic signatures on our new iPhone app to sign people up.

Our goal is to talk to every member in advance of bargaining a new contract to ensure members are active and understand the important benefits of being a member of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania.

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PA Supreme Court Halts Closure of State Health Centers

PA Supreme Court Halts Closures of State Health CentersIn a victory for our union and Pennsylvania’s public health, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has granted a temporary injunction that will prevent the Corbett Administration from continuing to close 26 of the state’s health centers pending a ruling on a full injunction.

“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.

In February, the Corbett administration’s announced plans to close the 26 state health centers and relocate those nurses to health centers in neighboring counties was slated to occur in two phases.  In addition, it was announced that 73 DOH employees including 26 community health nurses that work in the district offices would see their positions eliminated.

State health centers provide essential services like immunizations, health education and outreach programs, and are an important part of the state’s public health infrastructure. Pennsylvania already ranks 43rd of all states in per-capita spending on public health. Closing these centers would be another blow to an already beleaguered system responsible for protecting Pennsylvanians from disease.

“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.”

In response to Governor Corbett’s plans, our union along with State Senators Solobay and Wozniak, and State Representatives Hanna, Harhai, and Snyder filed a lawsuit against the Corbett Administration, and requested an injunction to prevent Governor Corbett from taking any action to close the centers.

The Commonwealth Court denied the request for an injunction back in April, leading to an appeal to the Supreme Court. The rest of the lawsuit is still before the Commonwealth Court pending a hearing.

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We’re Taking Corbett to Court to Protect Public Health

On Monday, April 1st, 2013, as the country honors National Public Health Week, our union 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:

  1. 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.”
  2. 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.
  3. 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.”

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.

Sign our petition today – Let’s tell Corbett not to close the door on Pennsylvania’s public health!

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