For Immediate Release:

Contact: Tammy Rojas | 717-205-3230 | tammyrojas1977@gmail.com

Put People First! PA (PPF-PA) hosted a Virtual Town Hall and Rally on June 4, 2020 to discuss the impact that University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) has on communities across Pennsylvania. Legally, UPMC is a “non-profit” charity, receiving tax breaks from the state of PA. However, PPF-PA’s analysis shows them to be a profiteer, in the sense that they take in more money than they pay out for costs (profit) and they use that money to pay their top executives and shareholders; as well as purchase more facilities to increase their market share, invest in the stock market, and lobby the state legislature through entities like the Hospital Association. UPMC acquired more than 20 PA hospitals between 2011 and 2018, and closed two of the eight hospitals closed in the state since the beginning of 2019.

PPF-PA members from across the state testified to the impact of hospital closings, and of the culture of rushed, inadequate care in UPMC hospitals.  Jennina Gorman of the Altoona Healthcare Rights Committee recalled her experience when her then healthy 25-year-old fiance went to a UPMC hospital emergency room in Altoona with severe, debilitating stomach pain multiple times. He was never examined, but sent home each time with pain medication. Only when Ms. Gorman threatened to sue the hospital did they examine him and then rush him to emergency surgery for a severely infected gall bladder that had produced sepsis. ”I thought I might be his widow before I was ever his wife,” she remarked.

Gwennette Freeman of the Mon Valley Healthcare Rights Committee pointed out that because the hospitals UPMC closed in Braddock and Lancaster disproportionately served people of color, hospital closings are a racial justice issue. She connected them to the police killings, and noted that the looting that has occurred in some recent protests is small compared to the corporate looting by healthcare profiteers. 

Others testified to poor care in UPMC hospitals and long waits in hospitals that remained in towns where UPMC had bought and then closed hospitals. Matthew Rosing of the Lancaster Healthcare Rights Committee testified that at Lancaster General Hospital, mental health patients have waited up to eighteen hours, following the closing of UPMC Pinnacle/St. Joseph’s hospital in 2019.

UPMC is a global corporation that reported a revenue of $20.6 billion in 2019. Based in Pittsburgh, they are increasingly taking over the for-profit healthcare industry in the state, and also have facilities in Maryland, Italy, Ireland and China. They are also planning to build new hospitals that will market to people from other countries with profitable specialty needs.

UPMC is the largest non-government employer in PA, and has a great deal of influence in the legislature. UPMC recently co-authored HB 2510 with PA House of Representatives Speaker Mike Turzai that will transfer $500 million dollars of Federal COVID19 funds into the hands of healthcare profiteers. The bill, which recently passed with a nearly unanimous vote in the House and Senate (notably State Representative Pam DeLissio voted against the bill) sets up a public/private financial authority that will fund “collaboratives” to operate assisted living residences, long-term care facilities and personal care homes.  The term “collaborative” appears misleading.  If the “collaborative” designates an action plan for a previously independent or publicly run facility there is nothing the facility can do to refuse.  Thus the term “collaborative” seems to be a stand-in for consolidation or even monopolization.

The stated purpose of the bill is to “promote health and stabilize the economy of the region by directly supporting COVID-19 readiness and response in facilities.” What is not stated is what “promoting health and stabilizing the regional economies” really means.   Would facilities be closed after the worst of COVID-19 is believed to have passed?  Given UPMC’s track record of closing facilities, this is a real concern. Other unaddressed concerns include:  if a facility is not profitable, will it be closed?  And if so, will people be able to access care?  Will it be affordable? To speaker Turzai it seems the most important thing is to get these funds into the hands of the private sector

But this isn’t just about Republicans in the legislature. The nearly unanimous passage of this bill in the House and Senate shows that there is a bipartisan consensus about private profiteering in our healthcare system. 

“Recently Harrisburg Democrats and their allies waged a campaign to get Speaker Turzai to resign over his cover-up of a COVID19 infection in the legislature. However when Turzai allows UMPC to write legislation of which they are a direct beneficiary, we don’t hear a peep,” remarked Nijmie Dzurinko, PPF-PA co-founder and co-coordinator.

“Most nursing home facilities in this state are run by private corporations and  private equity managers connected to Wall St. They buy up hundreds of nursing homes, cut corners to make profit. Then ask for millions in tax money because they can’t deliver what they promised. The state is facilitating looting of $500 million to give to corporations,” she added.

Tammy Rojas of the Lancaster Healthcare Rights committee noted that Gov Wolf recently extended his emergency declaration regarding COVID-19, and that the declaration should be used to reopen closed hospitals, redirect personal protective equipment and test kits to hospitals, grant Medicaid to everyone in Pennsylvania, and bring hospitals and other public facilities under public control.  

PPF-PA speakers emphasized the need to hold our elected officials accountable for facilitating healthcare profiteering at the people’s expense. 

The Town Hall was attended by over three dozen people from 10 counties across PA, including staff from the offices of Representatives Austin Davis and Matt Bradford and Senator Art Haywood.

Put People First! PA invites all community members who have been impacted by UPMC and other healthcare profiteers to join us at www.putpeoplefirstpa.org

by Terrell Turner of Stewartstown, York County

Campaigns come and go, and it seems like that’s a rollercoaster a lot of us are tired of, especially in defeat. At the end of it all there’s a lot of broken relationships, distrust, and helplessness. People we consider heroes show us just how human they are as disappointing decisions made for the “greater good” seem to conflict with core principles that we hold dear. 

I believe a lot of us need a place to harness those feelings. No matter how many friends we have on social media, there is a huge world around us and a lot of work to be done in it. When I first moved to PA, I met a few local activists and started to volunteer for Put People First! PA, a grassroots organization that advocates for healthcare as a human right. This work was being done even before Bernie’s first run in 2016. A few months in I became a father, left the organization, ran for political office that led to subsequent work in the races of others. I soon hit the repeated brick wall of campaigning. 

I became extremely tired of that and really wanted a soft place to land so I reached out to Nijmie, a Co-founder of Put People First! PA and was accepted with open arms. I immediately saw the growth and was quick to realize that this was a moving machine that hadn’t stopped at all. I immediately joined the PPF-PA direct action at governor Wolf’s house demanding he take action within his executive powers to protect the health and safety of his citizens here in PA. 

This isn’t a joke or a flimsy organization that can die with the defeat of any candidate. It’s a people powered grassroots organization that breaks through party lines and connects us through the basis of which we all have to operate, our health and healthcare as a human right. 

So this is my ask of anyone in PA feeling disillusioned or angry with what lies ahead. Leadership is in a lot of us. If it wasn’t, we wouldn’t be at war with a power structure that’s so many seem too easily bend to. It’s great to have political leaders, but it’s also our job to aggressively push or even break those in power to represent us starting with local officials and continuing up the ladder. There are many roles to fill and work to do, but I’m confident this is where I belong and where leadership can flourish.

So I ask you to join us at Put People First! PA and the only commitment you have to make is your desire to see people living healthy and dignified lives. Like and follow our Facebook page, sign up to get involved, https://www.putpeoplefirstpa.org/medicaid-army/ and let’s get organized!

by Frances Gilmore, Montgomery County Healthcare Rights Committee

We’ve all experienced quarantine now, not bad for those with roomy living space, very tough for families crowded into small spaces, for undocumented families receiving no government benefits, and for the unhoused community.


But imagine quarantine in a cage. That’s what thousands of people are experiencing in Pennsylvania’s state prisons. Imagine this fate if you are old, sick, or in prison for a very minor offense. Your prison time could be a death sentence, as COVID-19 spreads. A group of deeply concerned residents began a 2-week hunger strike on May 28 to demand the release of large groups of prisoners. PPF-PA is one of dozens of groups endorsing the strike.

Here are excerpts from the opening of their letter to Gov Wolf:

“…We demand that you take immediate action to minimize the spread of COVID-19 in Pennsylvania prisons and prevent the unnecessary deaths of potentially thousands of people….You took an important first step by using your constitutional power of reprieve to make 1,800 people eligible for release from Pennsylvania prisons. However, in the six weeks since you signed your reprieve, only 153 people have been released. Your response to this situation is negligent.
 
We are asking you to take additional urgent action to protect the lives of thousands of people before it is too late. There are currently 45,654 people locked in Pennsylvania state prisons, where social distancing is impossible and access to medical care is severely limited. Incarcerated people are more medically vulnerable than the general population, with approximately 40% suffering from a chronic health condition….We know that you, Tom Wolf, have full unlimited power of reprieve….In your hands, you hold the lives of more people than the entire population of your hometown of York. We will make this known with our entire bodies until you use your powers to prevent these deaths…”


Here is a summary of the group’s demands:

Demand 1: Accelerate the release of the 1,800 individuals eligible under the reprieve order signed April 10.
Demand 2: Expand the reprieve order by offense type, time served, age, medical conditions and include people incarcerated for technical violations of parole, which would otherwise not be considered crimes.
Demand 3: Stem the tide of admissions to state prisons by expanding the order of reprieve to suspend sentences for new technical violations of parole or probation.
Demand 4: Sign all three commutation applications for commutation of individuals sentenced to life without parole, all recommended by the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons.
Demand 5: Ensure that individuals released from custody have access to safe housing, food, and medical care.
Demand 6: The Governor and Secretary of Corrections must implement measures to ensure prevention, access to testing, and appropriate medical care for those who remain incarcerated.
Demand 7: Issue an Emergency Removal Order (ERO) on the Berks County Residential Center and release all families to either relatives or a sponsor. BCRC has been operating without a license since 2016, when the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services revoked it. As summarized by Pennsylvania Immigration & Citizenship Coalition, BCRC violates federal and state law.


Individuals can support the strike by:
 Using social media to publicize and tweet the governor
 Sign up to do a one-day hunger strike in support of the cause
 Write your own letter to the governor

Visit:

Instagram @freepeoplestrike

Twitter @freepeoplestrike (include @governortomwolf)

Facebook: Free People Strike

Photo from NEPA Car Caravan in Solidarity with Nursing Home residents and workers. To read more check out previous blog post.

Statewide Call Report Back
Our May Statewide Membership Call had five dozen participants from across the state tuning in for a chance to dialogue with special guests Dr. Armen Henderson of the Dream Defenders and Kristin Colangelo of the National Union of the Homeless. Dr. Henderson made national news when police detained him in front of his home as he was leaving to deliver free COVID-19 testing to unhoused residents. The call covered conditions on the ground in Florida and Pennsylvania, similarities in our organizing models and lessons learned. It also provided a chance to link the National Union of the Homeless which is currently building chapters around the country, with the Dream Defenders, whose recent work has focused heavily on providing services and support to the homeless.

Join our next Statewide Membership Call Thursday June 18th from 7-8:30 pm.

Johnstown HRC takes Covid-19 needs to Johnstown City Council
Johnstown Healthcare Rights Committee prepared and presented a local list of funding and other needs to Johnstown City Council at a virtual meeting on Wednesday May 13th.. Johnstown is expected to receive $760k Covid-19 Relief Aid monies and after several weeks there has been little transparency regarding the use of those funds. Kiki from our Johnstown HRC spoke to council about our concerns with committing funds to meet the needs local resident’s rent and utility forgiveness needs. Johnstown’s WJAC-TV covered our list of needed funds disbursements transparency and the addition of convenient Covid-19 testing sites in the city. The Johnstown HRC is planning follow-up regarding community Covid-19 funding and other needs.

Philadelphia Healthcare Rights Committee
Socialist Alternative invited PPF-PA to speak on a town hall meeting about the Philadelphia city budget on Thursday, May 25. Mayor Kenney is proposing an austerity budget that would slash funding for public programs, when what we need instead is a moral budget that centers the needs of the poor and dispossessed, in this crisis and beyond. Jae represented the Philly HRC, speaking about the fight for Hahnemann Hospital, the need to address the root causes of the problems that harm working class people and how our power comes through organization! Other speakers included city workers, organizers with PASNAP, the Sunrise Movement, and City Council Member Kendra Brooks.
Click here for the video.

Mon Valley, Pittsburgh Healthcare Rights Committee Press Conference
On May 19th, Mon Valley and Pittsburgh HRCs hosted a joint press conference with the Abolitionist Law Center as well as local politicians, Mayor Nickole Nesby of Duquesne and County Councilperson Bethany Hallam. During the press conference, multiple speakers called for expanded COVID-19 testing throughout Allegheny County. We specifically targeted Allegheny County Jail, Kane Senior Centers, and low income communities where there are transportation barriers to testing sites.

Five reporters were in attendance and we received press coverage in multiple outlets featuring quotes from HRC members across the state. Allegheny County Council members, that same day, decided to wait to vote on a bill that would secure testing in the county jail. Both HRCs plan to continue to take action with partner organizations and local government officials to further address the need to expand testing.

Check out press coverage from WTAE here and WESA here.

Montgomery County Healthcare Rights Committee
This is a statement/Letter to the Editor that Montgomery County HRC wrote that was posted in the Norristown Patch.

Lancaster Healthcare Rights Committee
Meeting with Representative Bryan Cutler report back
The Lancaster Healthcare Rights Committee met with Representative Bryan Cutler recently to discuss our healthcare as a human right platform. He has agreed to continue to meet with us and work with us in establishing a Public Healthcare Advocate for Pennsylvania. He seemed to have similar views and feelings in regards to St. Joseph’s hospital as we do in relation to when it was St. Joseph’s hospital and not when it was operated by the other entities. He also expressed concern on how the closure of St. Joseph’s hospital has affected the community of Lancaster, PA and is in agreement with us that we need more healthcare resources on the southern end of Lancaster County. Cutler expressed as it stands it’s closer for residents on the southern end of Lancaster County like himself to go to John Hopkins in Baltimore Maryland versus a hospital in Lancaster County, PA.

Lancaster Healthcare Rights Committee “Projects of Survival”
Sign up to join the Lancaster Healthcare Rights Committee and partners in our “Projects of Survival!” What is a Project of Survival? A Project of Survival is a method of connecting people, both materially and politically.

Put People First! PA has several established “Projects of Survival” from our leadership development across differences, political education to our “Community Care Fund” a fund utilized to meet the material needs of our leaders, i.e. rent, utility payments and other basic necessities. These “Projects of Survival” are essential to our movement in organizing to fight for our basic human rights.

In Lancaster we are expanding on our already existing “Projects of Survival.” ie Lancaster Homeless Union, holding healthcare profiteers and our elected officials accountable. We are now expanding to add a connection to meet material needs & a Human Rights House for Lancaster County, a space to house leaders of the movement and serve as a communal resource for the poor and dispossessed of Lancaster County and the greater movement.

Such a movement combining a plan to both meet the material needs of and development of leaders has the potential to “’expose larger society to moral failures and contradictions, and make demands and claims on the power of the state” (Sandweiss-Back, 2020, p. 6). Read more at: https://kairoscenter.org/beyond-mutual-aid/

To join our “Projects of Survival” fill out our survey at bit.ly/LancasterProjectsOfSurvival