Brownsville General Hospital
Brownsville General Hospital is a long-abandoned hospital in Brownsville, Pennsylvania. After its closure in 1965, the buildings were reused for the Brownsville Golden Age Nursing Home until 1985.
Prior to the construction of a hospital in Brownsville, medical intervention required a trip to the local doctor or by rail or boat to McKeesport or Fairmont. It was not until 1908 when the Rev. E.M. Bowman proposed the building of a hospital in Brownsville. 5 7 After two years of planning, a group of citizens secured a charter from the state for a new hospital. 7
A fundraiser brought in $10,000 towards the construction of a medical building. 7 A location was selected at Fifth Avenue and Church Street on the site of the former Brownsville Public School. A second fundraiser brought in an additional $32,000 followed by the securement of several government appropriations. A contract was awarded to the Charleroi Lumber Company with the provision that construction on the hospital would continue as long as the money remained in the bank account. 7
The facility began admitting patients in July 1914 despite the building still being under construction, 5 7 and work did not wrap up until 1916. An additional fundraising campaign raised $120,000 for a surgical ward that was then built. 7 A nurses home was added in 1920, 8 but it was not long until it became overcrowded.
Another fundraiser held in 1923 brought in $100,000, 7 and another $100,000 came from Joseph Horner, a partner in the Horner Coal Company, who bequeathed the money to the hospital when he died in 1926. 8 With the influx of cash, construction for a larger nurses home began in September 1928. 5 8 The Horner Medical Nurses Home, which included a nursing school, was dedicated in late July 1929 at the cost of $135,000. 8
The first floor of the new Nurses Home contained a reception room, ten bedrooms, and two libraries. An Indiana limestone mantle was constructed at the west end of the parlor. The second and third floors were nearly identical, each containing 15 bedrooms and a large bathroom. The basement featured a classroom, lecture room, sewing room, kitchen, closets, gymnasium, and boiler. A sun porch was located on the roof.
The School of Nursing operated until its closure in 1952. 6 A Brownsville General Hospital publication noted that it stopped training nurses because the preparation had become “academically oriented.” After it closed, it became the Horner Memorial Nurses Home, a residence for some of the nurses who worked at the hospital, and later a long-term care facility for the elderly.
The hospital added a 40-foot by 96-foot third level to house 13 patients in four private rooms and one semi-private room in April 1942. 13 It also included a new operating room.
The need for a new hospital by the 1950s had become clear as the facility boasted the highest occupancy rate of any hospital in the state. 11 By May 1960, the 100-bed hospital was at 99.5% capacity which was an increase from the prior year’s rate of 99.3%, and there was a daily waiting list of 20 to 25 patients for surgery or treatment. The state recommendation noted that a hospital should only be 80% occupied so that the remaining 20% could be made available in an emergency event.
A new Brownsville General Hospital, on the top of the hill overlooking the city, was dedicated on June 5, 1965. 2 The old facility was purchased by Frank Bock and renovated into the Golden Age Nursing Home. 6
But by the time the hospital had opened on the top of the hill, Brownsville was in an economic and population decline brought on by the downturn of the steel industry and layoffs in nearby coal mines. Rumors circulated as early as October 1976 that the new General Hospital, due to low patient intake numbers, could close. 9 The obstetrical unit was shuttered due to low demand, followed by staff layoffs in 1977. 10 Only 42 beds were occupied with 79 open. The employees were recalled back in the winter due to increased demand but more layoffs occurred in 1978. 12
The hospital faced two pressing issues that jeopardized its stability in late 2004. The physical plant had not been maintained properly and costs for its repairs were escalating, and revenues were declining. 3 The Board of Directors solicited offers from groups and organizations for the management of the facility and turned over the reins of the hospital to a group of doctors which converted the hospital into a for-profit institution. The Brownsville General Hospital was renamed to Tara Hospital.
Tara Hospital closed on January 8, 2006, over financial difficulties and labor disputes, leaving 260 employees out of work. 1 3 It was not until October 2007 that the non-profit board was able to regain control over the hospital. A community group reopened it as the Brownsville Tri-County Hospital on May 22, 2008, 4 but it was again closed over poor finances on February 12, 2009. The remaining 15 patients were transferred to other facilities.
Golden Age Nursing Home
After the Brownsville General Hospital relocated to its new location in 1965, the former buildings were renovated for use as the Golden Age Nursing Home. 6
In May 1983, two women, Wells and Snyder, visited Golden Age with an interest in placing a relative in the nursing home. 15 They were appalled by the conditions they found in 15-minute visit. The two women sought attention to state and federal officials to complain about the nursing home, writing to Governor Richard Thornburgh, Senator John Heinz, the state Secretary of Health, the HFCA, President Ronald Reagan, the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, and several television stations.
A federal survey was conducted at the nursing home on from May 30 to June 1, 1984, which uncovered serious violations, and a follow-up visit by the state found other issues. 15 The Medicare agreement with the nursing home was terminated and in July, the state Department of Public Welfare notified Golden Age that its termination from Medicare also necessitated the termination from Medicaid. The Department of Health, based on the state and federal inspection records, suspended all new admissions to the nursing home, which was guilty of:
- A serious violation of the provisions of the state Health Care Facilities Act and the regulations for licensure
- A cyclical pattern of deficiencies over a period of two or more years
- A serious violation of laws relating to medical assistance and Medicare reimbursement
An appeal was filed in March 1985, and the state Health Facility Hearing Board ruled that the Department of Health had failed to prove its charges. 15 The license to the nursing home was reinstated in December. 16 The Department of Health appealed and the Commonwealth Court overturned the Board’s decision and the license was again revoked. 14 While the proceedings with the state were ongoing, Golden Age appealed the Medicare decertification. 15 An administrative law judge ordered that Golden Age’s Medicare reimbursement be restored, but when the Commonwealth Court overturned the state Board’s decision, the nursing home lost its Medicare payments.
As a result of the investigations, the nursing home owner, Frank Bock, sued four individuals in state court seeking $40,000 each in damages in April 1986. 14 Bock stated that the director of the division of Long-Term Care for the Department of Health, Joyce McNamara, Senator Heinz, Wells, and Snyder had conspired to interfere with Golden Age’s business. The complaint was moved to federal court after Senator Heinz filed a motion to dismiss in June. Senator Heinz, Wells, and Snyder filed a motion for summary judgment.
The District Court granted summary judgment against Golden Age on counts of its complaint alleging “tortious interference with business relationships” based upon the inspections by both state and federal officials that unveiled multiple, serious violations. 15 The court then granted summary judgment in favor of all four defendants.