Friday, January 23, 2009

Transparency Urged for Northeastern

by NOW member Caryn Hunt
cross posted from http://www.greencityjournal.com/content/view/50793/35/

Community leaders met January 6th in a Port Richmond recreation center to discuss Temple University Health System (TUHS) plans for Northeastern Hospital amid rumors it will cut services. Staff within the system have been told that Northeastern is “restructuring”. Employees at Temple University Hospital have been told Temple will expand its obstetrics department (OB) once it closes at Northeastern. Northeastern officials contacted by members of the community have denied plans to close the facility, saying they are looking to "tighten their belt". What that may mean in terms of specific service cuts awaits the recommendations of an internal Task Force studying the restructuring of Northeastern within the Temple system, says Northeastern, but those close to the hospital fear maternity services will go. What so irks community members is that Northeastern's process is closed to the public and there are no community representatives included on the Task Force. “I think we need to meet with the Task Force face to face because this effects the whole community," said Cheryl, a longtime Port Richmond community member, "I was born in that hospital, I'm 61 years old. My daughter was born in that hospital. My grandfather suffered a heart attack and they saved him in that hospital. My mother just came out of there three weeks ago. This hospital has been around as long as I have.” Others attending expressed the same sentiments. Dr. Albert Pizzica, Director of Newborn Nurseries and Chief of Pediatrics at Northeastern, said, “Any restructuring at Northeastern that doesn't include OB is just unacceptable.” After acquiring Newman, Episcopal and Northeastern hospitals nearly ten years ago, the system promised to keep Northeastern open after closing the other two. Temple University Hospital enlisted community help four years ago in their effort to obtain property adjacent to their facility where a Walmart was planned. Patty-Pat Kozlowski of Port Richmond on Patrol and Civic said, “There are about 5 or 6 Port Richmond organizations here and we feel kind of boondoggled about what Temple and Northeastern's doing because we were their Davids when they couldn't fight the Walmart thing. We were the ones on the front line, we put our necks out there and won it for them”. Community members say Temple University Hospital assured them they would use the property to expand hospital facilities, to build a new maternity ward or nursing school. In fact, the location is currently a parking lot. “Now we make a call to say hey can you put someone from the same community group that saved you five years ago on the Task Force, we're not getting any calls back, they're not even telling us who's on the Task Force,” Kozlowski said.

“Does anyone here believe that left to themselves, Temple will make the right decision?,” asked Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Professionals (PASNAP) representative Stacy Harris. “I think that part of their goal in saying we have this Task Force, we haven't made any decisions yet, is everybody will sit back and say OK, well maybe they'll do the right thing, we don't have to be prepared. Then, all of a sudden, like at Newman or Jeanes, maternity is already gone and we're fighting from the outside. We have to fight this from the inside now because it's the best chance we have of saving maternity and other services at Northeastern.” PASNAP estimates up to 700 jobs could be lost if Temple decides to transform Northeastern into a “portal of care”, an outpatient facility with an emergency room.“Keeping the pressure on now is very important,” said Pizzica, “Temple receives a lot of public money. The public in this area should be part of the process of any organization that receives so much public money. To me, that's the reason we should demand and get public representation on the Task Force.” The Temple system has received over $120 million in public funds in the last five years, due to the large number of under and un-insured patients they routinely deal with in their service area.According to 2006 Department of Health statistics, Dr. Pizzica pointed out, 1800 babies are delivered in the area per year. “Temple cannot absorb 1800. Temple cannot absorb 500, probably. And we know that the other places that are contiguous cannot take many more if any at all. So if we go down the line that OB will be closed, the community has to demand a written plan from Temple, what's going to happen to these 1800 or more pregnant women?”, said Pizzica, “This is a bit negative because the presumption here is OB is going to close, but if it comes to that and it's irreversible, I think we still need to look at this as a community, where are these people going to go? Where is the ten week premature labor patient that comes in every day... they're not going to reach Temple, they're not going to reach Einstein. They're going to deliver in the streets, they're going to deliver in a cab, they're going to deliver in the emergency room at Northeastern. And we know a baby born outside of a delivery room, in an emergency room, and needs transport, does ten times worse than a baby born in a delivering center. So this is a public health problem if we go down the negative route.” Pizzica pointed out that when Temple closed Episcopal Hospital, they believed Episcopal deliveries would transfer to Temple University, but Temple's deliveries have declined. If Northeastern should discontinue its OB department, that would mean the loss of the last maternity department to serve the population between Center City and Bucks County. A staggering 17 hospitals have closed their maternity departments in the greater Philadelphia region over the past 11 years. Northeast Philadelphia communities are banding together to form a Coalition to Save Northeastern Hospital. Their first demand is for an open, transparent process as Northeastern evaluates need versus cost. They plan another meeting for January 20th at the Samuel Recreation Center, Tioga and Gaul Sts., 2501 E. Tioga.

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