Supreme Court halts closure of state health centers

The  Pennsylvania Supreme Court has once again halted a Corbett administration initiative, this time issuing a temporary injunction to block plans to close state health centers across Pennsylvania.

"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. "Although we are still waiting for the full implications of the court's ruling, 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."

The high court action Wednesday comes four months after the Commonwealth Court denied a preliminary injunction sought by SEIU Healthcare PA, Department of Health nurses and lawmakers to stop plans to close 26 state health centers and furlough 26 community health nurses.

This ruling would require the state to reopen those health centers and reinstate the eliminated nurse positions pending appeal, the union said.

There are 60 centers across the state, most of them in rural areas, and the union contended that it would force people to drive farther to obtain vital services such vaccinations, testing for AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases and maternal and other health counseling.

The union appealed to the Supreme Court to stop the closing of additional state health centers,  re-establish centers in the counties in which they  were closed and reinstate the nurse positions eliminated last month.

The administration maintains it is trying to revamp health access in rural areas by putting nurses on the road and delivering services such as vaccinations through health fairs and other events rather than brick-and-mortar clinics.

The state has already closed health centers in Carbon, Beaver, and Mifflin County  and 18 community health nurse positions have been eliminated, with nine community health nurses laid off and the remaining nurse positions moved into existing vacancies, according to SEIU.

The only clinic in the Southeast, located in Chester City, remains open. The move would not affect city and county-run health centers in Bucks, Chester, Montgomery and Philadelphia Counties.

The Corbett administration is duking it out with civil liberties groups in Commonwealth Court this week on another disputed matter: the voter ID law. In that case the Supreme Court granted a temporary injunction that barred the law's implementation in the November election and the May primary. Now the state and the plaintiffs are arguing over the constitutionality of the law, known as Act 18.






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