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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
“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.”
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. 
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
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: 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