This is the third post of a three part series by Tammy and the Lancaster Healthcare Rights Committee (HRC). In December 2018, Lancaster community members were told UPMC Pinnacle Lancaster — one of only two hospitals in Lancaster City — was slated to close by March 1st. UPMC had owned the hospital for just over a year before choosing to close it; however, the hospital had previously stood as St. Joseph’s Hospital, an institution in the community for over 130 years.

This three part series written by the Lancaster HRC includes: Part one – a brief history of St. Joseph’s; Part two – A personal history of St. Joseph’s; and culminates with Part three – The Weekend of Action and final Chapel Service (February 2019). Although UPMC closed the hospital doors at the end of February, the Lancaster HRC has not stopped fighting. For more information contact Lancaster HRC coordinator Tammy at tammyrojas1977@gmail.com.

“Weekend of Action” on the final weekend the hospital’s doors are open

The Lancaster Healthcare Rights Committee hosted a “Weekend of Action” on the final weekend the hospital’s doors will be open. Saturday February 23rd the Lancaster Healthcare Rights Committee hosted a public forum for the Lancaster community. Members of Put People First! PA from across the state joined and assisted the Lancaster Healthcare Rights Committee with the community forum and it was a success. We had people who came to the forum who also joined us the next day at the vigil.

The forum was filled with personal stories, group discussions on next steps and an agitational slide show presentation of the timeline of events leading up to the announcement of the closure of UPMC Pinnacle Lancaster. The timeline clearly shows there were a lot of shady deals going on behind closed doors. The introduction and first speakers to the forum were filmed. Click here for video. 

“Guess what, you live in Lancaster and your doctor can’t go to LGH because of your insurance with UPMC you’re not going to be delivering your baby in Lancaster, you’re going to have to go to another city, Lititz. UPMC likes to say it’s only 7 miles away but everyone in Lancaster knows that route 501 on a Friday at 5:30pm ain’t no walk in the park, could take you 25-30 minutes. In a snowstorm if you got to delivery baby and you got to go to Lititz, good luck. Because you’re going to be delivering your baby on the side of route 501 with a plow driver delivering your baby.”
—Paula Luciano

The people were outraged over the PILOT deal that city, county government, school district of Lancaster and Warwick made with UPMC. All entities agreed to take a 5 year voluntary payment plan in lieu of taxes and agreed to not challenge UPMC tax exempt status. In an LNP article then Mayor Rick Gray stated the difference of at least $200,000 would need to be made up by the people in the community. Click here to read entire article.

All city & county government officials were invited to attend the forum, including those who recently announced their candidacy, most didn’t show but one City Councilwoman did attend and agreed to support a city resolution for a Public Healthcare Advocate for the State of Pennsylvania. Al Williams had announced his candidacy recently for City Council and he made a statement during the forum “I’m new at all this”- said Al Williams… he went on to say he wants to do what’s right by the people and later spoke with Tammy Rojas, Co-Coordinator of the Lancaster Healthcare Rights Committee, thanked her for the work she does and told her to keep demanding answers because the community has a right to know. For additional media coverage check out CBS 21 coverage of the forum and WGAL coverage of the forum.

(Pictured above on left: Al Williams is shown here speaking and behind him sits City Councilwoman Janet Diaz. Pictured directly above: Empty seats of the candidates who didn’t show up for the forum.)

Sunday morning February 24th was the final sermon at the chapel inside the old St Joseph Hospital

The people who attended the final mass, were workers, volunteers and members of the community. Anne from the Lancaster Healthcare Rights Committee was in attendance and spoke with people before and after the sermon.

As Father Mike began the final mass in the St. Joseph Chapel, he said that, regardless of what name appeared on the façade of the hospital, it would always be St. Joe’s to him, as well as many of the workers and community who attended the mass. St. Joe’s had been his home for the last 21 years, performing the duties of the hospital’s Chaplain. He spoke of how hard it was to clean out his office, that it was akin to cleaning out the home of a loved one who recently died. As he packed away the things he had accumulated over the years, he came across a program from the 30th Jubilee Anniversary of St. Joseph’s. He joked that he had a bone to pick with the Brothers of St. John of God, the order whose mission inspired the St. Joe’s because they had a hospital named UPMC Pinnacle in Italy. He spoke of how the Brothers, despite their dedication to the sick and poor of Lancaster County, almost immediately befell financial hardships which eventually led to foreclosure and the hospital being put up for Sheriff’s Sale.

A smile lit up his face as he spoke of how the Sisters of St. Francis took out a loan to pay off the mortgage and had the ownership of the hospital transferred to them. He spoke with love and awe of how these women tirelessly worked for many years without pay to transform a building that had no running water, electricity, beds, locks, and “vagrants,” as he called them, sleeping on the ground floor while the scared Sisters slept on the second floor, into a specialty hospital that had over 30 specialties. Despite the strong anti-Catholic sentiment that was rampant, the Sisters won over the community with their care of both the spiritual and physical well-being not only of their patients, but the community in which they dwelled. The community rallied around them, supplying their deficits and partnering with them to build a new hospital to replace the antiquated old Victorian structure that was its birthplace.

Father Mike’s smile disappeared as he spoke of the present. His eyes welled up as he spoke of not understanding how an institution who had weathered so many financial storms in the past, with the Sisters struggling to keep the hospital open as long as they could despite dwindling numbers of women dedicating their lives to religious service and losing millions of dollars a year but refusing to compromise the care of their patients to save money, could close its doors, ending the legacy of an institution that had become tightly woven into the very fibers of the community. He stated that it wasn’t merely closing the doors of a building, it was closing the doors of a spiritual beacon in the community, a place where anyone could come regardless of their financial or immigration status and receive the best care possible that was infused with love, something that was absent in other hospitals. The name and ownership of the hospital may have changed, but the spiritual life of the hospital was kept alive by morning scripture, weekly mass, and a dedicated pastoral care department that sought to provide the patients with an open ear and door whenever it was needed. He said that we mourn the closing of the hospital, but just as we never really lose a loved one, the spirit of St. Joe’s will live on in the building despite its locked doors. We can only pray that the use of the building and property will continue to care for the sick and poor of our community, but the future remains uncertain. He assured those in attendance that, although the future of the property and building is uncertain, St. Joe’s spirit will always be on College Avenue: its roots are deep within the property’s soil and foundation and God dwells within.

They cleared out the chapel Wednesday February 27th, the stained glass will stay intact for the moment but many in the community hope they too will be preserved before demolition. [1]

The second day of the “Weekend of Action” the Lancaster Healthcare Rights Committee hosted a Candlelight Vigil

The Vigil was held Sunday February 24th across the street from the hospital formerly known as St Joseph Hospital

On day two of the “Weekend of Action” the Lancaster Healthcare Rights Committee with Put People First! PA hosted a candlelight vigil to pay homage to the hospital, workers and volunteers over many generations. The service provided by people in the community for 135 years deserved proper recognition and our gratitude for their dedication.

Anne, Co-Coordinator of the Lancaster Healthcare Rights Committee was the emcee of the vigil and planned the whole agenda! Way to go Anne! Great Job!
During the vigil Tammy, Co-Coordinator of the Lancaster Healthcare Rights Committee shared her personal story about what this hospital means to her and why she’s fighting so hard to save it. Click here to see video of her remarks.

“I’m not giving up, I’m not, because fighting for this hospital, fighting for what is going to be there going forward. Is me fighting for my grandmother, is me fighting for my grandfather, is me fighting for every single working class person that ever put a single moment of work into this hospital, so I will not give up and I will not stop and I know I’m not alone. —Tammy Rojas

Other people followed afterwards as story after story was shared from those who were in attendance. Emotional heartbreaking stories from the community were spoken through a bullhorn so those inside could hear our gratitude for their hard work. A few individuals present mentioned their disgust for UPMC over forbidding the workers to join us at the vigil when they expressed the need for that closure.

During the vigil passerby’s joined us. One gentleman shared his story around the closing of the hospital and asked for flyers for our organization so he could hang them up in his barbershop in Columbia. Another gentleman who joined us was very glad to connect with us and stated he would be at the next meeting.

Pastor Kevin Brown led us in a prayer where he prayed to God thanking him for the strength he gave to help us fight the good fight and he asked God for extra strength as we keep pushing forward to save the hospital from demolition. Click here to see video.

The Lancaster Healthcare Rights Committee Held their Committee Meeting Three Days later….

Wednesday February 27th, 2019 the Lancaster Healthcare Rights Committee held their regularly scheduled committee meeting, a few new people attended and seem excited to get involved in the work we do.

At the Healthcare Rights Committee Meeting it was made clear that the people of Lancaster are ready to FIGHT back! We are going to keep up the fight and “Take Back St Joseph’s”

A Letter to the Editor published in Lancaster Newspaper from a resident in Mountville shows that people from all over Lancaster County feel as we do. Click here to see LTE.

“I don’t have a title or alphabet letters after my name, so my opinions likely won’t count for much, but it’s my belief that closing UPMC Pinnacle Lancaster, without a replacement, will become a long-term tragedy for the Lancaster area, and the local governments seem oblivious to this.

I am aware that the city can’t stop the closing, but it could, with the county, look into the feasibility of reopening the facility as a city/county hospital. Don’t laugh: Our youngest daughter was born in a city/county hospital in another state. Having worked for the federal government for 41 years, I know that nothing is impossible.

For example, a city/county task force, including state representatives, medical experts and possibly federal representation, could do a feasibility study to determine what could be accomplished in the near term: possibly an emergency room, a pharmacy, lab, a day hospital and maybe a maternity section. Later expansion could be considered, depending on the market, need and resources.

What surprises me is the relative silence of local doctors about this closing. Do they support it?

I might be wrong — I usually am — but I think doing nothing is not an appropriate option. It’s clear some people, maybe many, want this hospital to stay, or one like it. We live in a commonwealth — time to start acting like one.”

Samuel R. Stitman
Mountville

We have decided to address City Council and the County Commissioners at upcoming public meetings in March about the PILOT deal they made with UPMC in 2017 of which they have tried to keep silent about. We will make it clear we are not backing down, just because they chose to make a deal with UPMC, we did not.

Throughout March & April we will meet with our state representatives about St Joseph’s Hospital and our current Put People First! PA Healthcare campaign. We will also confront UPMC Pinnacle on their corporate agenda and demand they give back what they stole from us.

We will be doing a lot of outreach around this issue while building permanent people power in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Join us in our fight to “Take Back St Joseph’s” at putpeoplefirstpa.org #ShameOnUPMC

Sources:

Sources:

[1] History of Tradition: UPMC Pinnacle Lancaster
https://www.pinnaclehealth.org/our-health-system/about-upmc-pinnacle/our-history/a-rich-history-of-tradition/ (Article taken off website)—————-Fr. Mike’s final sermon 

This is the second post of a three part series by Tammy and the Lancaster Healthcare Rights Committee (HRC). In December 2018, Lancaster community members were told UPMC Pinnacle Lancaster — one of only two hospitals in Lancaster City — was slated to close by March 1st. UPMC had owned the hospital for just over a year before choosing to close it; however, the hospital had previously stood as St. Joseph’s Hospital, an institution in the community for over 130 years.

This three part series written by the Lancaster HRC includes: Part one – a brief history of St. Joseph’s; Part two – A personal history of St. Joseph’s; and culminates with Part three – The Weekend of Action and final Chapel Service (February 2019). Although UPMC closed the hospital doors at the end of February, the Lancaster HRC has not stopped fighting. For more information contact Lancaster HRC coordinator Tammy at tammyrojas1977@gmail.com.

Personal & Spiritual Connection of St Joseph Hospital and the Community of Lancaster, PA

Tammy Rojas, Co-Coordinator of the Lancaster Healthcare Rights Committee with Put People First! PA, shares her personal connection to St Joseph Hospital:

My grandmother, Doris Wiley was born in 1928 and coming from a long line of poverty married at the age of 13 and moved with her new husband from Georgia where she was born, all the way to Lancaster, Pennsylvania where she spent the rest of her life. Coming from poverty and marrying young further education would not be an easy task to accomplish, jobs that paid enough to help support her family would be difficult for her to get and in the United States Careers women could get in general were limited during her time.

Shortly after my grandmother married my grandfather, Edward Wiley, the United States entered WWII and he was sent off to War. When he returned home from the war he got a job at a warehouse where he worked for many years until about the mid 1960’s where he then got a job as a janitor at St Joseph Hospital to help supplement the family’s income so my grandmother, Doris would be able to attend nursing school.

(Picture caption right: Local directory for Lancaster, PA from 1946)

My grandmother was a very hardworking woman and she wasn’t known to give up easily. In the mid 1960’s, when she was nearing 40 and still having 3 children to look after, she studied hard and became an LPN. After graduating she served the community of Lancaster in the Pediatrics department of St Joseph’s Hospital. She was the one person throughout my life that ever made me believe anything was possible and I could achieve any dream I wish to achieve and she protected me when no one else would. I was born in St Joseph Hospital June 1,1977, while she was still working there as an LPN. My mother had complications during birth so I was immediately placed into an incubation like chamber. Thanks to the great care my mother and I received that day we were both able to pull through. My grandmother, Doris Wiley, spent the last few minutes of her life on September 28,1988 at St Joseph Hospital. To this day I still regret not being able to say goodbye to the person I have always looked up to the most, the footsteps I always wanted to follow. I still remember the day I received the news, I was in 5th grade at George Ross Elementary school and they pulled me out of class to give me the news and I have never been the same since. St Joseph Hospital is the place of my birth and the place my grandmother’s spirit left her body. The only thing I have to remember my grandmother is an old Polaroid picture where she’s holding me in her lap and I appear to be about 2 years old. The spiritual connection I feel with St Joseph Hospital is the spiritual connection I feel to my grandmother. I fear the moment that hospital is demolished my final piece of spiritual connection with her will be lost and broken.

So for me fighting for this hospital means I’m fighting for my grandmother, fighting for my grandfather and fighting for the legacy of the entire working class because it’s our blood, sweat and tears that made St Joseph Hospital a place that will live in the hearts of many for years to come.—Tammy Rojas

Through the Lancaster Healthcare Rights Committee taking action on the closing of UPMC Pinnacle Lancaster (St Joseph) since December 2018 the community joined and shared their stories about the hospital.

My parents came to Lancaster, PA from Puerto Rico and it was difficult for my father to find work so he took a job working under the table. He got seriously hurt on the job, no insurance or workers comp he had trouble finding a hospital that would give him treatment until St Joseph Hospital. —Xavier Molina-Garcia

As a survivor of domestic violence and sexual assault I can’t be seen by a male doctor, it gives my serious PTSD and panic attacks that capacitate me for days. At UPMC Pinnacle Lancaster they are able to give me the extra attention and care I need because they are not so over capacity like Lancaster General Hospital. —Anne Winslow

That’s MY hospital, I know when I go to that hospital they will be able to give me the care I need without having to wait for hours or get rushed through like a number. —Matt Rosing

This hospital is important to the community and it’s important to the people in the neighborhood where the hospital is at, my neighborhood. We have many children and elderly that use that hospital and I can’t believe city government isn’t saying or doing nothing about it —Jose Rivera (Photo caption: Jose Rivera speaking at the vigil Sunday February 24th, 2019)

This is an important part of Lancaster History taking place here right now, it’s our blood sweat and tears that went into this hospital and it needs to be fought. —Ann Wenger

We pray to you God and thank you for the strength you have given us to fight this and we pray for the extra strength to keep on fighting this. —Pastor Kevin Brown

This is the first post of a three part series by Tammy and the Lancaster Healthcare Rights Committee (HRC). In December 2018, Lancaster community members were told UPMC Pinnacle Lancaster — one of only two hospitals in Lancaster City — was slated to close by March 1st. UPMC had owned the hospital for just over a year before choosing to close it; however, the hospital had previously stood as St. Joseph’s Hospital, an institution in the community for over 130 years.

This three part series written by the Lancaster HRC includes: Part one – a brief history of St. Joseph’s; Part two – A personal history of St. Joseph’s; and culminates with Part three – The Weekend of Action and final Chapel Service (February 2019). Although UPMC closed the hospital doors at the end of February, the Lancaster HRC has not stopped fighting. For more information contact Lancaster HRC coordinator Tammy at tammyrojas1977@gmail.com.

History of St. Joseph’s Hospital

St. Joseph’s Hospital was built as a charity hospital in 1878 and was the first hospital in Lancaster County. It was built and operated at first by St. John of God Order of Brothers and almost immediately ran into financial difficulties. The Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia took over the hospital in 1883 with an operating budget of $2.50, two apples and a mission to minister to the sick and poor. When they arrived, the building didn’t have electricity, running water, or beds. Despite being met with a strong anti-Catholic sentiment, the Sisters won over the community by their devotion to the community and the care they gave to their patients. The Sisters, who worked tirelessly without a salary for many years, scrubbing floors, cooking the food for their patients, keeping medical records, and washing all the clothes and linens of the hospital, also provided spiritual support to their patients with daily visits by the pastoral care department, most of whom were not Catholic.

Due to their less-than-shoestring budget, the Sisters made a weekly trek to Central Market to garner donations from vendors for both themselves and their patients. During one Central Market visit, one Amish man reluctantly tossed a bar of soap into their basket, perhaps sharing in the strong, prevalent anti-Catholic sentiment present at the time in Lancaster County. His wife became seriously ill that same night and was taken to St. Joseph’s hospital for treatment. The Sisters that went to Central Market that day recognized the man and personally saw to the care of his wife. Due to their care, that same Amish man supplied the hospital with soap for many years. (Picture caption (below: Sr. Anne Lawrence performs her duties as pharmacist at St. Joseph Hospital in Lancaster, PA)

Their devotion and care of their patients and for the community became known throughout Lancaster and the hospital grew. In 1884, the first operating room was established and the hospital became incorporated in 1885. At the turn of the century, a new wing was built for surgery and established The Training School For Nurses in 1902. In 1950, the community partnered with the Sisters, in recognition of their care and devotion, the original Victorian building was replaced by new buildings. Serving 121 patients in their first year, over the next 120 years St. Joseph’s evolved into a specialty hospital with a medical staff that encompassed over 30 medical specialties. (Picture caption: St Joseph School of Nursing founded in 1902, last graduating class was in 1969, 741 nurses graduated from St Joseph School of Nursing.)

Due to the dwindling number of women becoming nuns, the Sisters’ ability to continue their service at the hospital was becoming impossible, and their devotion and service to the community was costing the hospital millions of dollars. They reluctantly sold the hospital in 2000 to a for-profit Florida chain, which renamed the hospital Lancaster Regional Medical Center, who in turn sold it in 2017 to UPMC Pinnacle. The Sisters believe that the evolution of the hospital and the special place it holds in the hearts of many, of which both Lancaster Regional and UPMC Pinnacle reaped and exploited the benefits, was due to their devotion to the care, both physical and spiritual, to all who came through their doors and resided in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

“Times change. I’m not sure why this decision has been made, but I trust that the Lord will take care of all the good people in Lancaster.”- Sister Dreisbach.

In a recent LNP article It was stated this was the reaction of Sister Joan Dreisbach to news of the pending shutdown of UPMC Pinnacle Lancaster, formerly known as St. Joseph Hospital. Sister Joan Dreisbach spent roughly 25 years at the former St. Joseph Hospital between 1957 and 1984.

Dreisbach, now 89, is known to many in Lancaster from her years directing St. Joseph’s nursing school and later serving as the Catholic hospital’s president.

She learned of the planned closing of UPMC Pinnacle Lancaster when a reporter reached her by phone at Assisi House, the Philadelphia-area retirement convent where she now lives.

“I have a very tender place in my heart from all of those experiences,” Dreisbach said. “I will cherish my memories.” Click here to read the whole article.

Sources:

Feeling Blessed, The Sisters of St. Joseph Hospital Gave All
Ad Crable Dec 2, 2002 
https://lancasteronline.com/news/feeling-blessed-the-sisters-of-st-joseph-hospital-gave-all/article_cd842e4b-b56a-5542-9970-8912fe3da016.html—————–

History of St. Joseph Hospital in Lancaster: Bob Hope, the nuns and more [photos]
LANCASTERONLINE | Staff Dec 11, 2018 
https://lancasteronline.com/news/history-of-st-joseph-hospital-in-lancaster-bob-hope-the/article_0ce600e2-fd7e-11e8-a607-c3f72b1c80c4.html—————–A Rich

February 20, 2019
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Press Contact:

Tammy Rojas  
(717) 205-3230
tammyrojas1977@gmail.com
Lancaster Healthcare Rights Committee
Put People First! PA

Residents Host Community Forum and Vigil Final Weekend before UPMC Closes Doors

Put People First! PA – Lancaster Healthcare Rights Committee hosts “Weekend of Action”  

WHAT: Lancaster members of Put People First! PA, a grassroots, statewide organization of people directly impacted by the healthcare crisis, will have a weekend of action on the final weekend before the hospital closes and have invited all local government officials to attend, including those who have announced their candidacy.


FORUM:

We want to inform the public of the process UPMC has taken to purchase this hospital, what benefit they received from the purchase, what they have done to other communities and why we need a Public Healthcare Advocate for the state.There will also be time for the community to share their concerns about the closing.

WHEN: Saturday February 23rd, 2-4pm

WHERE: Community Mennonite Church 332 West Orange St.

CANDLELIGHT VIGIL:

The vigil is to pay homage to the hospital, it’s workers and volunteers over many generations. The service provided by people in the community for 134 years deserves proper recognition and our gratitude for their dedication. It’s also the perfect time for people to share their stories around the hospital.

WHEN: Sunday February 24th, 5-6pm

WHERE: Across the street from the hospital located at 250 College Ave

Since the closing of UPMC Pinnacle Lancaster was announced in early December, the Lancaster Healthcare Rights Committee has brought attention to this issue by flooding the December 18th City Council meeting, staging a rally outside the Lancaster County Government center and voiced their demands at the City Council meeting February 12th. (1) “We want a Public meeting with UPMC CEO and executive present and a city resolution recognizing the need for a Public Healthcare Advocate for Pennsylvania,” Tammy Rojas stated.

Put People First! PA Lancaster members have asked all local government officials and those who have announced their candidacy for the upcoming term to join us for this weekend of action. “We need to see that our local elected officials take our concerns seriously and that they are prepared to take action,” Anne Winslow stated. “Even though this hospital, as of March 1, will be closed and not there, we’re still going to keep up the fight. Because until that place is sold or demolished, we still have an opportunity to make our voices heard,” said Tammy Rojas (2)

Pennsylvania Department of Health spokesman Nate Wardle said in an email that while there are certain reporting requirements, it does not have the ability to stop a hospital closure and he’s not aware of any agency that does. (3) Put People First! PA believes that while local government may not be able to draft legislation to change the current healthcare system, there are steps they can take that would put pressure on state legislators to take action. This crisis illustrates the need for a Public Healthcare Advocate in the State government, who can act on behalf of Pennsylvania residents who are at the mercy of for-profit healthcare providers, an issue that Put People First! PA has been raising across the state.

Put People First! PA has members in 17 counties waging their “Healthcare is a Human Right” campaign. Last September, the Lancaster Healthcare Rights Committee held a demonstration against substandard care and working conditions at ManorCare Lancaster, as part of a Statewide Week of Action in York, Lancaster, Pittsburgh, and Johnstown PA. Since then the Lancaster Healthcare Rights Committee has been at the forefront of the fight to keep UPMC Pinnacle Lancaster open.

  1. https://www.facebook.com/104992520955/posts/10157139298255956?sfns=mo
  2. https://www.facebook.com/16299922909/posts/10157027894432910?sfns=mo
  3. https://lancasteronline.com/news/local/group-will-take-concerns-about-lancaster-hospital-closing-to-city/article_853dd3f2-0225-11e9-a8d2-5be6ee3dc31c.html