Put People First! PA is asking for hospitals closed by UPMC in Sunbury and Lancaster be re-opened, along with Hahnemann University Hospital, Philadelphia, which was bought by a private investor in 2018 and closed in September 2019.
These hospitals are the "most recent closings and most viable for immediate re-opening," said Nijmie Dzurinko of Put People First! PA.
A virtual rally held on March 27 by Put People First! came up with a list of demands, including:
- Re-opening all closed hospitals immediately, using eminent domain or emergency powers if necessary
- Applying for a federal waiver to expand Medicaid to all PA residents immediately
- Directing production of Personal Protective Equipment for healthcare workers and all essential workers
- Universal testing for all PA residents
- Bringing all private hospitals and healthcare facilities under public control for the duration of the crisis
“The fact that UPMC has refused to cancel elective surgeries for the sake of profit, instead of focusing all of their efforts on fighting COVID-19 is an object lesson on why we must bring private hospitals under public control for the duration of the crisis”, said Barbara White, a PPF-PA member from Pittsburgh, in a release sent out by the organization. “Our demands are equal to the conditions we are facing. In unprecedented times, we need an unprecedented response from Governor Wolf to protect our residents and neighbors,” added Borja Gutiérrez, PPF-PA member from State College.
UPMC has no plans to re-open its recently closed facilities, including the former Sunbury Hospital. Dr. Rachel Sackrowitz of UPMC said they would "plan and evolve," as the COVID-19 situation develops. "UPMC continues to evaluate and allocate our resources to ensure that we are able to provide needed care."
In the meantime, "UPMC is working with local and regional real estate experts to list the property for sale," Tyler Wagner, UPMC Williamsport communications director, said of the Sunbury facility. "Our real estate team is looking to work with someone who can sustain a viable community service out of the campus."
Dzurinko argues that facilities built to be hospitals are the best place to put patients, as opposed to parking lot clinics or hotels.
"Patients deserve to be in a hospital bed, sheltered from the elements. Full stop!" Dzurinko wrote to northcentralpa.com in an email. "When we are sick we deserve to be cared for in a hospital, not in a parking lot. This is a basic social standard which we have adopted for centuries. We cannot dispense with it now when more people are in need of it than ever before."
"UPMC Sunbury was a 63-bed facility which offered a wide range of services, including inpatient, outpatient, emergency, medical, and surgical care," Wagner wrote to northcentralpa.com. "It is now empty as the resources and equipment have all been redistributed throughout the system."