Pennsylvania to move ahead on closing rural health centers

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HARRISBURG -- A Commonwealth Court judge has denied a request for an injunction from a nurses union to halt a state plan to close almost half of Pennsylvania's state health centers and furlough 26 public health nurses.

Arguments for an injunction in the case were heard earlier this week.

The Service Employee International Union Healthcare Pennsylvania had said the pending closures were not legal without approval of the state Legislature, according to a 1996 law.

Commonwealth Court Judge Keith Quigley's ruling addressed only the injunction; the underlying lawsuit is still active but the ruling means the Department of Health can move ahead on its plan.

Among the centers slated to be closed and consolidated: centers in Beaver and Armstrong counties would close to merge with a Butler County health center; Greene County's center would be consolidated with the Washington County health center; and the Monessen State Health Center in Westmoreland County would close to be consolidated with the Westmoreland County health center in Greensburg, according to union officials.

Many of the centers are in rural areas and serve the uninsured.

The Department of Health has said the consolidations would allow nurses to be out in the community more often to treat public health problems, such as giving flu shots at community health fairs, rather than making clients visit the health centers.

The department issued a brief statement Thursday in light of the ruling.

"We believe the state health center modernization will bring vital services to more people throughout the commonwealth. We will move ahead with our plans to put a system in place that allows us to best serve our communities and will meet Pennsylvania's changing and growing public health needs."

The union said despite the denial of the injunction, the lawsuit's hearing will proceed in upcoming weeks. SEIU is considering appealing the injunction decision to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, according to a union statement.

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Kate Giammarise: kgiammarise@post-gazette.com, 1-717-787-4254 and on Twitter: @KateGiammarise.


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