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Pennsylvania Supreme Court halts Corbett plan to close health centers

| Thursday, July 18, 2013, 3:45 p.m.

Some Western Pennsylvania officials on Thursday hailed a state Supreme Court decision to halt Gov. Tom Corbett's plan to close nearly half of the state's 60 community health centers.

Corbett's plan would close 26 facilities and eliminate 26 nursing positions, saving $3.4 million a year.

SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania said the court's move means closed centers must reopen and bring back employees the union represents.

“How long the process will take is unclear to us,” spokeswoman Amelia Abromaitis said.

In Western Pennsylvania, health centers that have closed or are scheduled to close are in Armstrong, Beaver, Greene, Lawrence, Somerset and Westmoreland counties.

“There are no details in the court's order, so we are reviewing and awaiting further guidance regarding the scope of the order,” said Aimee Tysarczyk, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Health, which runs the centers.

In a two-sentence order issued Wednesday, the court granted a request for an injunction and asked for a speedy hearing on a lawsuit challenging Corbett's proposal.

The SEIU, Department of Health nurses and several Democratic state lawmakers sued on April 1 to keep the centers open, saying Corbett's plan violates a 1996 law that requires legislative approval to close them.

The centers test for sexually transmitted diseases, HIV and tuberculosis; treat people with communicable diseases; perform immunizations; and investigate food-borne illnesses, among other things.

“We've been concerned since our clinic in Waynesburg shut down earlier this month because some of our people don't know where to go now for treatment,” said Greene County Commissioner Archie A. Trader, a Republican from Waynesburg.

Registered nurse Joe Donahue's job as a school health consultant in Greensburg for the Department of Health was eliminated.

“I was offered a position in Butler County, but it was a two-hour drive. Financially, it wasn't feasible. You don't hear anything about public health, and that means we're doing our job. Another outbreak will occur, and the state won't have the staff to respond,” said Donahue, 60, of Uniontown.

Workers at the now-closed health center in Vanport, Beaver County, distributed potassium iodide tablets for residents living near the Beaver Valley Nuclear Power Station. People also went there for vaccinations as the 2003 hepatitis A outbreak traced to a nearby Chi-Chi's restaurant killed four people and sickened more than 660.

“We've had so many closures and so many reductions in services that we can't afford it — no matter if it's Armstrong County or any other county — to keep losing health centers,” said Armstrong County Commissioner Robert Bower, also the county coroner.

Monessen Mayor Mary Jo Smith recalled hundreds of people lined up outside the health center there in 2009 for swine flu inoculations. The center was set to close by the end of this month, according to City Administrator John Harhai.

“The governor needs to understand (that) there are people in this world who need these services,” Smith said.

Staff writers Rick Bruni Jr., Tory N. Parrish, Tony LaRussa and Rossilynne Skena and The Associated Press contributed to this report. Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or

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