Health center not on cut list

The Pennsylvania Department of Health’s office in Warren is not targeted for closing, under a proposal released Monday.

The state Department of Health has proposed closing 26 of the state’s 60 county-based state health offices.

Department of Health Director of Communications Aimee Tysarczyk said she could not confirm whether state health centers in Warren or neighboring counties will “co-locate” to neighboring counties.

According to an SEIU Healthcare PA representative who asked to remain anonymous, a list provided to the SEIU by the department of health indicates Warren County’s office would be unaffected, but offices in Crawford, McKean and Forest Counties would be co-located to Mercer, Elk and Venango Counties respectively.

SEIU represents state nurses employed at the health offices.

The cuts, according to the department, would result in a loss of approximately 50 jobs. Remaining personnel would be transferred to a nearby office not slated for closure.

“Our position is that Pennsylvania is already ranked last in public health workers per capita and at the bottom in health dollars spent,” according to the SEIU representative. “The nurses are kind of the eyes and ears on the ground. They’re not, as the state thinks, sitting and resting on their laurels.”

The county-based offices provide vaccinations and health programs in areas without a department of health as well as serving as a base for disease and outbreak investigations in case of emergencies.

According to the proposal, the state plans to compensate for the reduction in services by replacing brick-and-mortar facilities with mobile health centers. Under the plan, department nurses would bring health service available at the county offices to community centers, a plan the SEIU representative said the group opposed.

“You can’t just transport all of the services currently provided,” the representative said.

Another concern, according to the representative, is whether the state is allowed to close the offices.

Under Pennsylvania Act 87 of 1996, “The Department of Health shall operate those public state health centers and provide, at a minimum, those public health services in effect as of July 1, 1995.”

The mobile units and “co-locations”, the SEIU says, are an attempt to circumvent state law prohibiting reducing the number of centers by calling the moves relocations rather than closings.

“We’re not even sure they’re within their legal rights,” the representative said.

The first round of mergers is tentatively scheduled to begin March 29.

According to a list provided to SEIU by the Department of Health, consolidation of offices in counties neighboring Warren would include Crawford to Mercer County, Forest to Venango County and McKean to Elk County.

All three mergers would be a part of Phase II actions with a date to be announced.