On December 11, it was announced the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center Pinnacle Lancaster Hospital, located next to the multinational working class neighborhood of West Jewels, would be closing by March 2019. This leaves only three hospitals for the entire county and only one hospital for the whole city of Lancaster. This closure leaves 505 employees with an uncertain future.
Lancaster General Hospital, the only remaining hospital in Lancaster City, is designed to take in 85,000 emergency room visits per year while actually taking in 117,000 per year. UPMC Pinnacle Hospital takes 23,000 emergency room visits per year. This would of course, even further stretch the services that are already over capacity.
This alone would be tragic enough. To add insult to injury, only the day after the news, Randy Patterson, the city’s director of economic development and neighborhood revitalization, stated: “The City’s preference would clearly be that UPMC demolish the structures and provide a blank canvas for future development.”
He was also quoted saying: “If demolished, the property could also be subdivided into smaller lots for redevelopment.”
The community understood his comments as plans for the future use of the property to further gentrification. In the past year, the Bulova building in downtown Lancaster has begun construction to convert its property of nearly a full city block into luxury condos including a penthouse on the fourth floor. All this, while working class and poor communities struggle with high rent and low wages. Since the 2009 recession, the gap between wages and rents has doubled.
The people take action
Soon after the announcement, progressive and revolutionary organizations called the community to pack the city council meeting on December 18 to voice their concerns with the closure and how the city government is using the opportunity to prepare for more gentrification.
Put People First- PA, a statewide grassroots organization lead by the poor and dispossessed and a part of the Poor People’s Campaign a National Call for Moral Revival, as well at the Party for Socialism and Liberation, mobilized the community.
On the day of the city council meeting, the chambers were filled with city residents concerned about the future of their communities. An entire row of seating was filled with members of Put People First! PA. The PSL distributed signs for the community to hold that read “End the War on the Poor.” Many community members and activists addressed the city council.
Tammy Rojas, the Co-Coordinator of the Lancaster Healthcare Rights Committee with Put People First! PA, told the council members: “Closing this hospital will mostly hurt those of us who are already economically struggling. Lack of access to healthcare services, leading to health issues, leading to Job loss, leading to homelessness, leading to a rise in poverty making this a crisis we can’t ignore. We need to hear that our city council is with us and not with those who put profit before the lives of the people. Will you stand with us as we take these concerns to other officials? Will you work hard to secure the much needed healthcare services for the community or look the other way as the hospital is demolished? City council we ask you, which side are you on?”
Pastor Kevin Brown of Kingdom Life International Assembly also spoke to the council about the lack of justice his community already experiences and how this would further make things difficult for the poor. He explained how he saw profits being put above the people of his community. Previous to the city council meeting, the pastor explained his concerns to his congregation via a Facebook Live stream and urged them to come to the council meeting.
“It was so inspiring to see community members come together,” Rojas said, reflecting on the action, “At the city council meeting the poor and dispossessed made it a point to have our voices heard and we are already getting responses. This proves that a movement led by the poor and dispossessed can make real fundamental change happen in their communities if they get organized to take action together.”
The PSL will continue to stand with the working class of Lancaster demanding the city defend the healthcare rights of the people. Tired of being sold out by city officials to bankers and developers, the people are looking more and more to socialism as a path to ensure their needs are met.