Health centers may face merger
BY ROBERT SWIFT
HARRISBURG - Major changes are in store under Gov. Tom Corbett's budget proposal for the state health centers which provide flu shots and other services to the public.
The governor's plan calls for closing an undetermined number of the 60 county-based centers for an estimated savings of $3.4 million and adopting a strategy where teams dispatched from regional centers would deliver services in communities or at well-attended community events such as festivals and fairs.
"Public health service delivery is more effective when the department goes into the community to provide services, such as we did at the Farm Show in January, providing more than 3,700 flu shots during a week's time," said Aimee Tysarczyk, spokeswoman for the state Health Department.
In Northeast Pennsylvania, state centers are located in Scranton, Wilkes-Barre, Stroudsburg, Milford, Montrose, Honesdale, Tunkhannock, Sunbury, Pottsville, Towanda and Jim Thorpe.
The centers don't provide primary care, but offer a range of education, clinical and referral services for such diseases as tuberculosis, HIV and sexually transmitted conditions, said Ms. Tysarczyk.
Although the number of physical locations will be reduced, health officials said they will be able to increase access to health services with a more mobile approach that relies on new technology and better use of staffers.
The centers have fewer walk-in clients than decades ago and some centers have as few as one walk-in client a month, according to a summary of a department analysis. About three-fourths of the program spending goes to pay office leases rather than for services.
The change will lead to the elimination of 50 positions, according to the House Democratic Appropriations Committee.
Lawmakers are seeking more information about the proposal with House and Senate appropriations committee hearings on the budget starting later this month.
Rep. Matt Baker, R-68, Wellsboro, chairman of the House Health Committee, has asked for more details after being briefed this week by department officials.
He said the proposal surfaces at a time when leases for 30 state health centers are up for renewal.
"It's definitely something we are seeking more information on," said Bill Patton, spokesman for House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-33, Allegheny County.
Meanwhile, the governor is proposing $4 million to establish a Community-Based Health Care Subsidy for new community health care clinics and to expand services at existing clinics. These centers provide preventative primary care services. The subsidy would be targeted for clinics in rural areas and other areas that lack medical services.
The Senate is working on enabling legislation for the subsidy.
The proposals involving the state health care centers and community-based clinics are not linked as far as the budget proposal is concerned, said Ms. Tysarczyk.
Contact the writer: email@example.comHealth centers in Northeast Pennsylvania
State Office Building, 100 Lackawanna Avenue, Room 110, Scranton
665 Carey Ave., Suite 2, Wilkes-Barre
1972 West Main St., Suite 102, Stroudsburg
County Commerce Center, 10 Buist Road, Suite 401, Milford
35 Spruce St., Suite 2, Montrose
615 Erie Heights, Honesdale
5632 Route 6, Tunkhannock