Community members in Lancaster, Pennsylvania came into the streets on September 21 to march in the heat for the right to quality healthcare. The Party for Socialism and Liberation mobilized to support the action organized by Put People First! PA’s Lancaster Healthcare Rights Committee. This demonstration was part of the Put People First! PA’s statewide week of action focused on defending and extending the federal welfare program Medicaid and to continue the fight for healthcare rights.

The march to Lancaster General Hospital amplified voices from various sections of the community and speakers from the National Union of the Homeless and the PSL.

“We need to fight and organize for our basic human rights to housing and healthcare,” Tammy Rojas told the crowd. Tammy is a statewide organizer for Put People First! PA and a leading organizer of the Lancaster committee. “Today we are taking action to defend Medicaid, demand our right to healthcare, and bring to light the false narrative that says the poor are the ones abusing the system!”

Lancaster County is one of many battlegrounds in the fight for adequate community healthcare. As hospitals and healthcare centers are facing closures across the United States, communities are fighting back against the greed of corporate healthcare providers. One local hospital, UPMC Pinnacle Lancaster, closed operations in February this year, leaving Lancaster General Hospital (LGH) as the sole emergency department in the city.

“LGH was already over capacity before [the closure.]” Tammy continued, “Now things are worse […] We are not equipped to handle a serious emergency.”

In 2015, LGH was purchased by Penn Medicine, a private hospital network based in Philadelphia which is both the largest employer and landowner in Lancaster. Two years later, Penn Medicine would settle a lawsuit with the U.S. Department of Justice for $275,000 for allegations of Medicaid fraud. The lawsuit claimed that LGH’s division of Maternal Fetal Medicine lacked the requisite number of physicians to handle its patient volume, resulting in reports of ultrasound studies delayed well past their 30-day deadline for Medicaid reimbursement. Many of these patients had high-risk pregnancies and needed rapid results, but some were filed as late as the child’s delivery.

Anne M. Nigro Winslow of Put People First! PA made it clear who really holds responsibility for these failures. “We want to make it clear that we do not blame the staff or hold them responsible for the compromised care they are forced to provide,” she stated, “but rather their profiteer, Penn Medicine.”

The failures of the U.S. healthcare system deeply affect the lives of the working class in more ways than one, including the struggle for housing.

“I’ve been homeless five times, and every single time it was a result of a healthcare crisis,” said Keith McHenry, member of the Santa Cruz Union of the Homeless. “Just like food is a right and not a privilege, healthcare is a right and not a privilege!”

Members of the Party for Socialism and Liberation denounced the outrageous amount of time it takes to receive and maintain Medicare coverage for things like emergency dental treatments and the disruptions it causes in their lives as service workers. The crowd was united behind the need to build an independent working class movement to fight for universal healthcare for all!