New Castle News

March 5, 2013

State to close health center here

John K. Manna
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — The state health center on Margaret Street in New Castle may close under Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposed budget.

Corbett is proposing nearly half of the 60 county-based centers be eliminated and consolidated with those in neighboring counties.

State Rep. Chris Sainato said the Lawrence County center is to be consolidated with Mercer County’s in Jackson Center. Crawford County’s center in Meadville also is to be consolidated with Mercer County, according to the Erie Times-News.

The centers provide vaccinations and clinical and referral services for transmitted diseases.

Lawrence County’s center has two employees, a nurse and a clerk.

Sainato said he was told last month by representatives from the state health department of the closing.

He said his concern was that he didn’t “want anyone to lose their job. They assured me nobody would lose their job.”

The two employees apparently would be moved to Mercer County, he said.

Neither Michael Wolf, acting health department secretary, nor press secretary Aimee Tysarczyk, would confirm that the Lawrence County center is one of the facilities to be eliminated.

Wolf called the closing of some of the centers “a thoughtful proposal,” saying it’s a move to take the services to the people who need them.

“We believe we should be going out to the community instead of the community coming to us.

“Our people will still be in Lawrence County,” at senior centers and community centers, he noted.

The plan would keep 34 centers and eliminate the positions of 26 nurses who perform services handled by other agencies. More emphasis would be placed on nurses traveling to public gatherings as a way to administer things such as immunizations and, ultimately, serve more people, department spokeswoman Aimee Tysarczyk said Monday.

The nursing positions to be eliminated include those in district offices who largely work on chronic diseases, maternal health and school health, she said. Twenty-four other employees, including 14 clerk typists in the health centers, would also lose their jobs, she added.

Under collective bargaining agreements, Tysarczyk said, the unions “need to make the appropriate notification to their employees first before we can proceed” with closings.

The union that represents nurses said the move runs the risk of slowing down the detection or prevention of outbreaks of communicable diseases and will be felt most heavily in rural areas.

The union, SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, also points out that Pennsylvania has fewer public health workers per capita than most other states and suggests the closings may violate a 1996 state law that says the Legislature’s approval is necessary.

The 60 health centers cost about $20 million to run. The closures would save $3.4 million, according to the health department.

Tysarczyk said the department could name only some of the health centers it wants to close because of agreements to notify the labor unions first. But she said health centers in Beaver, Blair, Carbon, Fulton, Mifflin, Potter and Somerset counties would close.

The union also said health centers in Adams, Armstrong, Clinton, Columbia, Crawford, Forest, Greene, Jefferson, Lawrence, McKean, Montour, Perry, Pike, Snyder, Susquehanna, Union, Wyoming counties would close, as would health centers in Monessen in Westmoreland County and Wilkes-Barre in Luzerne County.

According to the health department’s website, services provided by the state health centers include communicable disease clinical services, which include sexually-transmitted disease and tuberculosis diagnosis and treatment, immunization, and HIV testing, counseling and education.