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Wolf Offers Reinstatement to Nurses Furloughed Under Corbett

More than two dozen former Pennsylvania Department of Health nurses were offered reinstatement by Gov. Tom Wolf last week after their positions were eliminated by the Corbett administration.

In November, the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, which sued Gov. Tom Corbett in 2013 over his plan to close 26 community health centers and eliminate 26 nursing positions to save an estimated $3.4 million a year.

“People were thrilled,” Kevin Hefty, vice president of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, said. “It’s always frustrating when it takes two years to see justice, but people are thrilled that it’s finally happened, and they are finally getting back to work.”

The court found Corbett’s budget cuts violated a 1996 law that requires legislative approval to close the health centers. Now, the Department of Health has to “restore the level of public health services to that which existed on July 1, 1995,” according to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, including the reopening of 16 centers that had already been shut down.

Hefty said community health centers are too critical to remove for budgetary reasons.

“At some point, you can’t cut your way out of a situation,” he said. “And that’s what we see is when people just constantly [say] the mantra: ‘cut, cut, cut,’ you start to cut into the bone.”

In western Pennsylvania, centers in Armstrong, Beaver, Greene, Lawrence, Somerset and Westmoreland counties had been or were scheduled to be closed at the time of the lawsuit.

The reinstatement process has been slow because of the gubernatorial election year, according to Hefty, but he said Wolf has made reopening the community health centers a budgetary priority.

“A new administration is moving quickly to implement this and bring people back,” Hefty said. “We’re excited to see the administration and see a focus on bringing the public health infrastructure back up to speed.”

Thirteen nurses have accepted the reinstatement offers, according to Hefty. He said several had already moved to other positions within the Department of Health, while others opted for early retirement.

“It’s one of those things were you don’t pay attention to it until all of a sudden you hear about a measles outbreak in Chambersburg and people are like…‘If only there was some government agency that did something about that.’ Well, that’s what public health nurses do.”

The centers test for sexually transmitted diseases, treat communicable diseases, offer immunizations and provide consultations for school nurses.