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Politics & Government

No Timeline For Reopening State Health Centers After Court Ruling

The Corbett administration has to come up with a plan to reopen state health centers after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled it can’t close any of its 60 public health hubs statewide.

“We are still reviewing the ruling in full to determine the implications to the plan moving forward and will be providing additional communication to the public and to our staff as soon as that review is complete,” said Aimee Tysarczyk, spokeswoman for the state Department of Health.

The state’s high court sided with nurses and Democratic state lawmakers recently when five out of six justices agreed the administration must stop shuttering clinics that provide services like flu vaccines and STD testing to rural areas. Sixteen health centers have closed since last year.

“The ruling doesn’t have a timeline other than, you know, now,” said Kevin Hefty, a vice president with SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

“In some cases, the state health centers were in rented buildings and so when they closed the center and left, the landlord may have rented it to someone else,” said Hefty. “It may take some time to start finding a location and signing a new lease, moving equipment and people back to the county.”

Positions that were eliminated belonged to nurse consultants who specialized in different public health issues. Hefty said many of them moved to other jobs working for the commonwealth, like at a state prison, and can return to state health centers “pretty quickly.”

The Corbett administration had planned to close 26 out of 60 health centers to cut costs. State officials argued that mobile nurses could provide the same public health services more efficiently.

SEIU nurses and several Democratic lawmakers said shutting down the offices would violate a 1996 law requiring the state to maintain its 60 health centers and the range of services they provide.

“This is a great decision, it’s a victory for public health,” Hefty said. “It’s now incumbent on the Corbett administration to reverse course, to reopen the centers that were closed, to bring back the consultants whose positions were eliminated, and they should do that as quickly as possible.”

State health centers were closed in the following counties: Potter, Carbon, Mifflin, Fulton, Somerset, Beaver, Blair, Snyder, Armstrong, Greene, Clinton, Pike, Susquehanna, Columbia, Union and Westmoreland.