(Getty Images/Colorado Newsline)
A proposal now making the rounds of the state House seeks to boost accountability and transparency for hospitals that plan to close their doors and ensure continuity care for patients.
The legislation, sponsored by Democratic Reps. Eddie Day Pashinski, of Luzerne County, and Jennifer O’Mara, of Delaware County, would require hospitals 180 days, instead of the current 90 days, to notify state and local agencies of a planned shutdown, the lawmakers said in a joint statement.
The bill, now before the House Health Committee, also “includes requirements for an approved Closing Plan and Health Equity Impact Assessment to be submitted” to the Department of Health and state Attorney General’s Office, the lawmakers said.
“When hospitals and health care facilities close or drastically reduce services with little or no notice, their patients, doctors, nurses, and staff suffer,” Pashinski said in the statement. “We witnessed this in Luzerne County last year with the sudden announcement and subsequent closure of First Hospital without any apparent plans in place to provide for continuity of care or help their staff transition.”
First Hospital, formerly based in Kingston, Pa., announced last August that it planned to close its doors by Oct. 30 of last year, WVIA-TV reported. Hospital officials said they’d struggled to maintain staffing levels, with “nurses and other caregivers leaving their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the station reported.
All told, at least 19 hospitals filed for bankruptcy, closed or announced plans to close in 2022, according to Becker’s Hospital CFO Report, an industry trade publication.
Several of those were in Pennsylvania, according to the trade publication. They included Berwick (Pa.) Hospital Center, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy Sept. 30, the news organization reported. That announcement came less than two weeks after the abrupt closing of the hospital’s emergency department because of a staffing crunch. Its affiliated clinics closed last July, according to the trade publication.
“When a community hospital closes down, hundreds of thousands of people suddenly need to figure out how to access emergency health care. This especially applies to maternity wards, because if one of only two local labor and delivery units moves 30 minutes away, it creates a health care desert – especially for women. This can cause maternal, infant and child health to suffer while displacing staff,” O’Mara said.
“… It’s important that state law better prioritizes public health by giving communities more time to arrange new health care services. My district struggled with this, but the 90-day notice for the closure of Delaware County Memorial Hospital followed Pennsylvania law,” O’Mara continued. “Therefore, our bill aims to change this to a 180-day notice to allow for a smoother transition while ensuring everyone can still access quality health care.”
The legislation also calls for increased community input, data collection, public comment, and public hearings before a hospital closes its doors, the lawmakers said.
If it’s approved and signed into law, the “bipartisan, bicameral legislation would be a significant step toward ensuring health care facilities planning to close provide local communities and government agencies the time, information, and opportunity they need to adequately address these significant impacts and plan for related challenges,” Pashinski said.
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