‘This is Delaware County. We fight like hell’: Health care workers, elected officials rally against Crozer Health cuts

State Rep. Mike Zabel delivers an impassioned speech directed at hospital ownership and says ''They don't know who they're dealing with. This is Delaware County, we fight like hell.'' (Kenny Cooper/WHYY)

State Rep. Mike Zabel delivers an impassioned speech directed at hospital ownership and says ''They don't know who they're dealing with. This is Delaware County, we fight like hell.'' (Kenny Cooper/WHYY)

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With various hospital wards closed and even more impending service shutdowns on the way, health care workers rallied alongside elected officials and community members Wednesday outside of Crozer-Chester Medical Center in Upland.

The Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals (PASNAP), which represents roughly 1,200 nurses and health care professionals within the Crozer Health system, planned the rally to call attention to four Delaware County hospitals currently being stripped of services.

Nurses and social workers told WHYY News that their patients will suffer is these service shutdowns come to pass. (Kenny Cooper/WHYY)

Crozer Health and its parent company, Prospect Medical Holdings, have been embroiled in controversy over the past few weeks. From making more cuts to threatening to shut down paramedic services to municipalities, Crozer’s actions have sparked backlash in Delco.

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Citing the negative financial impact that COVID-19 has had on the hospitals, Crozer has been on a spree eliminating hospital wards and services.

Health care workers within the system told WHYY News that these service shutdowns will cause real damage to the people of Delco.

Peggy Malone, president of the Crozer-Chester Nurses Association, told WHYY News that hospital ownership has been far from transparent amid the Wilmington-based ChristianaCare Health System currently attempting to purchase Crozer from Prospect.

Peggy Malone is the president of the Crozer-Chester Nurses Association, a PASNAP local. (Kenny Cooper/WHYY)

However, Malone said that since that has started, hospital management has been asking the county and the municipalities for more money even though they “were given large sums of money during COVID.”

“[Prospect is] cutting services saying that there is no money, yet, we want to know, where was this money spent? Because, what we know is that this money has been given back to their investors. And now they have taken so much money from our system, that they’re ready to sell us and leave us with nothing,” Malone said.

With limited supplies and shrinking staff, Malone is upset that cuts keep being made given how vital the services are. She said that she and her fellow nurses want to do what’s right for their patients.

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“How is that good for this community? Coming out of the pandemic, the rates of suicide and overdose and substance abuse, depression, and anxiety are all at record high levels. Now is not the time to take the services from this community,” Malone said.

She emphasized that the rally was a chance for the public to hear from health care workers across the various units who are seeing the impact of the cuts firsthand.

PASNAP members pose for a picture at the end of the rally in front of Crozer-Chester Medical Center. (Kenny Cooper/WHYY)

‘This is going to devastate the whole entire community’

The health professionals told WHYY News in multiple interviews that their patients are in jeopardy.

Yahaira Turner previously worked in the First Steps Treatment Center, the inpatient drug and alcohol unit at Crozer-Chester Medical Center. That was shuttered in January. Now, she works as a social worker at the hospital.

“We need the services. I am working currently in the [emergency department] and I see how these patients are in need of the services…the mental health crisis is going to get worse. We also need drug and alcohol [treatment services] there for people who are detoxing, people who are scared, or just struggling with just saying, ‘I need help,’ and they can’t even get access to that,” Turner said.

For many people facing drug or alcohol addiction in the eastern portion of Delco, the Crozer-Chester Medical Center is quite literally the starting point for recovery.

However, with Crozer set to close the Inpatient Acute Substance Abuse and Addition Unit on June 11 and its Crisis Center on June 19, the starting point becomes blurry.

And with Crozer planning to shutter all mental health and substance use treatment outpatient services at the Community Campus in Chester, the starting point for recovery in Delco all but disappears.

Amanda Heiter is a nurse that previously worked in First Steps but transferred to a different unit just before it closed. She currently works in the outpatient recovery unit.

“It’s needed. People are going to die,” Heiter said. “If they close the services, Delaware County has no other really good programs like this at all for methadone on this side of Delaware County. This is going to devastate the whole entire community … We had so many people clean and sober for years relapse during this pandemic. We need this service. They can’t shut this down.”

(From left) Amanda Heiter, Yahaira Turner, and Lakeya Caulk want people to know that mental health, behavioral health, and drug and alcohol addiction treatment are vital services that the community can’t afford to lose. (Kenny Cooper/WHYY)

Lakeya Caulk is also a nurse on the campus that works with the recovering community.

“Our patients really matter. They’re the ones who are hurting. Recovery really matters. We are a small community and mental health is really serious in this area. Please save our patients,” Caulk said.

Susan Rubinstein doesn’t work within the Crozer Health system, however, she does have a family member currently receiving treatment at the Community Campus.

“We just found out last week that they’re planning on closing that down in the middle of June. And there goes the weekly therapy and medication management, which in our case, is helping our family member work part time and she’s been getting services for a very, very long time,” Rubinstein told WHYY News.

Her family has been “scrambling” to find alternative care.

“We just literally don’t know what to do,” she said. “The other thing is, I’m very concerned about a lot of the patients over in the mental health facilities here who may not be aware of going on or may not have family as caregivers. We know what’s going on, so we can be proactive, but there are probably a lot of people who don’t or don’t have the wherewithal to do something and to find other care and this is going to throw the entire county into chaos.”

Health care professionals march alongside elected officials in protest of hospital unit and ward closures outside of Crozer-Chester Medical Center in Upland. (Kenny Cooper/WHYY)

While mental health and addiction treatment services are on the chopping block in Crozer, paramedic services aren’t faring much better

Jon Ley, the union chief shop steward for PASNAP’s Local 100, which represents the paramedic department at Crozer-Chester Medical Center, told WHYY News that municipalities are struggling to put up the money that Crozer has demanded to maintain paramedic services.

“Would there be layoffs? Yes. But, our concerns as an EMS department is the community. It’s going to affect the community. Seconds count. There’s already a crisis in Delaware County for EMS providers as far as paramedics,” Ley said. “People will die. Sick people will go unattended for a long period of time before someone gets to actually treat them and bring them to the hospital.”

Zabel: ‘We fight like hell.’

Outraged by the state of health care in Delaware County, elected officials who spoke to the energized crowd at the rally took the gloves off.

State Representative Mike Zabel (D-163) delivered an impassioned speech directed at Prospect Medical Holdings.

“Are you mad? I’m pissed. It’s time to call it what it is: Prospect is a deeply immoral evil company. And it’s time to stop tiptoeing around it or saying, ‘Oh, maybe we can negotiate with them.’ No, these are bad, bad, bad people,” Zabel said.

Having had conversations directly with Crozer, Zabel said that like the health care workers, he is also exhausted by the hospital’s recent actions. He added that the system has received money from the government, but has not invested it back into the system.

He told the health care workers that hospital ownership only cares about profits.

“They don’t know who they’re dealing with. This is Delaware County. We fight like hell,” Zabel said.

He also questioned why for-profit companies are allowed to run hospital systems in the United States.

“It is time to stop talking nicely about these people and call them out for the profiteering ghouls that they are and we will not stop,” Zabel said. “…They don’t know who the bleep they’re dealing with. But they’re dealing with PASNAP and they’re dealing with Delaware County and we will not back down. Stay mad. Keep fighting.”

Delaware County Council Chair Dr. Monica Taylor said that she separates Crozer Health from its parent company.

“You all who’ve been working for Crozer for decades for years have built these programs, have implemented them, who live in our community, and have been here for forever. You care about our community, you want to see the best for our community — Prospect does not. They are a for-profit entity who lives in California. And their goal is to make as much money as they possibly can. They don’t care about the residents,” Taylor said.

EMS providers are worried that a potential shutdown of paramedic service for several municipalities could cause a domino effect across the rest of Delco. (Kenny Cooper/WHYY)

She promised the crowd that their elected officials were working diligently to find out where the money that Prospect is receiving is going to.

PASNAP has planned a second protest for next Wednesday at Delaware County Memorial Hospital in Drexel Hill.

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