‘We’re in real danger of becoming a real health care desert’: Nurses, lawmakers picket outside of Crozer-Chester Medical Center

Nurses and other medical professionals held an informational picket at Crozer-Chester Medical Center, criticizing hospital ownership.

Protesters march on a sidewalk.

PASNAP nurses marched in front of Crozer-Chester Medical Center in Upland, Pa., on May 19, 2023. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

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Dozens of employees of Crozer-Chester Medical Center picketed alongside community members and local lawmakers outside of the hospital Friday, criticizing Prospect Medical Holdings, the for-profit owner of Crozer Health, for allegedly “disrespecting” staff.

Crozer’s failing finances have been under the microscope. The four-hospital system in Delaware County has been struggling to pay its bills and in March laid off 215 workers. U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon told the crowd that during the height of the pandemic, legislators have been in constant contact with the region’s health care systems — and Crozer stuck out.

“From the start, it was clear there was something different going on here in terms of how nurses were being treated. And we know that we need to have your backs and we’re here to support you. And we need safe staffing. We need respect. We need to treat our nurses, paramedics, pharmacy workers, and all the health care professionals with the respect that they deserve,” Scanlon said.

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U.S. Congresswoman Mary Gay Scanlon speaks at a microphone at a protest.
U.S. Congresswoman Mary Gay Scanlon joined Crozer-Chester nurses at their picket to bring staffing and other issues to the public outside the hospital on May 19, 2023. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals (PASNAP) has four union locals that work in Crozer-Chester Medical Center and it has been pushing Prospect to improve working conditions and increase safe staffing levels.

Crozer was once a non-profit health system before Prospect acquired it in 2016.

“The bottom line is we are all going to continue to work as hard as we’ve always worked. And we’re going to take care of these patients with respect. We deserve it and our patients deserve it. And we’re not going to stop until that happens. And if that means that this for-profit hospital needs to give us our land back and go and let us return this hospital to the quality that it used to be,” said Peggy Malone, president of the Crozer-Chester Nurses Association. “We have a renowned burn center and a level two trauma center and a cancer center. Give it back.”

RN Peggy Malone speaks into a microphone as other protesters gather around her.
RN Peggy Malone, president of the Crozer Chester Nurses Associations and employee of 35 years, lead a nurses’ picket on May 19, 2023. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

In a statement to WHYY News, a spokesperson for Crozer said they share PASNAP’s commitment to patient safety.

“While we respect the union and its representation of our colleagues, we do not support the disruptive environment picketing may create,” the statement read. “Our focus is, and always has been, on delivering the highest quality of care to our patients. We are committed to ensuring that we have the staff we need to safely care for our patients. Crozer Health’s RN vacancy rate is 10.5% compared to 15.7% nationally, and its RN annual turnover is 20.4% compared to the national average of 22.5%.”

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Crozer cited a “national crisis” in nurse staffing, but said the company is actively searching for hires and “offering incentives, such as sign-on bonuses and loan forgiveness, to help recruit staff.”

State Rep. Leanne Krueger’s district includes the area of Upland Borough where Crozer-Chester Medical Center is located. She said she’s lost count of just how many picket lines she has attended to call out Prospect’s management decisions.

Krueger and the other lawmakers in attendance, like state Reps. Heather Boyd (elect), Dave Delloso, Carol Kazeem, Lisa Murkowski, Jennifer O’Mara, and state Sens. John Kane and Tim Kearney are currently pushing forward bills in the General Assembly to address workplace conditions and safe staffing levels.

PASNAP nurses marched outside Crozer-Chester Medical Center in Upland, Pa., on May 19, 2023. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

“We are fighting for safe staffing for you. We are fighting for workplace violence remedies that give you all the health care workers a seat at the table. And we are fighting for accountability for out-of-state hedge funds that think that profits are more important than people,” Krueger said.

Kearney said action must be taken now before another hospital ends up closed like Delaware County Memorial Hospital.

“The Department of Health now talks about Delaware County as being a maternal health care desert, largely in part because of some of the actions by Prospect. But we’re in real danger of becoming a real health care desert here, if we don’t do something — if we don’t do something soon,” Kearney said.

Mary Adamson, president of the Temple University Hospital Nurses Association, spoke in solidarity with the staff at Crozer-Chester before the group marched in front of the hospital.

“When profit is the driving force of the daily operations of a hospital, compassion is devalued. Taking that extra step to comfort our patients is neither encouraged nor rewarded. Compassion has taken a backseat to profit. And that, my sisters and brothers, is why we continue to stand outside these hospitals to shed light and understanding on how we are failing as a civilized society,” Adamson said.

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