Last updated: March 06. 2013 12:05AM - 3885 Views

The State Health Office at 665 Carey Ave. in Wilkes-Barre.Don Carey Times Leader Photo
The State Health Office at 665 Carey Ave. in Wilkes-Barre.Don Carey Times Leader Photo
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WILKES-BARRE —State Rep. Phyllis Mundy said Tuesday many questions remain unanswered regarding the plan to close half of the state’s health centers.

“The impact on public health of so many layoffs in staff has not been fleshed out and is still unknown,” Mundy, D-Kingston, said. “Modernization is the new euphemism for privatization and fewer government services. If this ‘modernization’ moves forward, we may not really know the effects until the next public health crisis.”

Mundy was reacting to Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposed plan to close nearly half of the state’s 60 health centers — including the one in Luzerne County — and lay off nurses as part of his effort to save money and improve public health duties.

Aimee Tysarczyk, press secretary/director of communications at the state Department of Health, said she can’t confirm if or how Luzerne County would be impacted.

“As for the rationale, the current state health centers system is built on an outdated model from the 1980s,” she said. “The department believes we can be more effective by mobilizing staff into the communities.”

She said the centers average two nurses and cost about $20 million to run.

Tysarczyk said the proposal is based on a data-driven analysis that showed: 77 percent of operational costs are tied into leases, not services;

The people served cannot find us or just can’t get to us due to transportation issues;

They are not scheduling appointments on a regular basis, with some centers seeing one client per week;

And no one has taken a look at all of this in more than 25 years.

Tysarczyk said much has happened in 25 years. There have been changes in technology, in the delivery of public health, in health care, the way we work together and communicate with our peers, friends, family and neighbors, she said.

The new model would allow the department to take advantage of well-attended senior fairs, legislative-sponsored health expos and other community health events to ensure that these events are regularly scheduled and in places where people can easily access, she said.

State Sen. John Yudichak, D-Plymouth Township, has had discussions with health department officials and he said it’s his understanding the intent is to mobilize community health nurses and allow them to increase services and maximize the number of patients served on a weekly basis.

“Mobilizing and extending the reach of the community health nurses is a worthwhile cause, however, any proposal that could potentially cut jobs – especially in regions struggling with chronically high unemployment like Northeastern Pennsylvania – needs to be more closely examined,” he said.

His colleague in the Senate, Lisa Baker, R-Lehman Township, said there needs to be public hearings on the subject and input from other public health experts.

Tysarczyk said state health officials are confident the mobilized model works because it has been implemented in several counties.

“For example, in Luzerne County, we have a partnership with the Hazleton School District and we are holding immunizations monthly at St. Gabriel Church,” she said. “Through this initiative we are servicing five to 25 people per month. We also have a partnership with theWilkes-Barre Health Department and private businesses and together we’ve been holding TB clinics.”

State Rep. Gerald Mullery, D-Newport Township, a member of the House Health Committee, said he had inquired about the specifics of the plan shortly after the governor’s budget was released. He said he was advised that the plan would allow for a greater number of Pennsylvanian’s to be served by traveling health professionals and approximately $2 million would be saved annually as a result of the center closings and furloughs.

“My greatest concern is that our constituents continue to receive the public health benefits they need,” Mullery said. “Under the governor’s plan, I fear the services will be underutilized and result in increased health care costs as many may look to our local emergency rooms for treatment.”

State Rep. Mike Carroll, D-Avoca, is a member of the House Appropriations Committee. He said he intends to review the closure plan.

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