The Brownsville General Hospital, located in Brownsville, Pennsylvania, closed in 1965. Afterwards, the buildings were used for the Brownsville Golden Age Nursing Home before shuttering in 1985 due to state and federal investigations that uncovered serious deficiencies.
Early medical intervention involved a trip to the local doctor or by rail or boat to McKeesport or Fairmont. The first proposal for a hospital came in 1908 from the Reverend E.M. Bowman, local citizens and medical professionals.5 7 After two years of planning, the group secured a charter from the state for a new hospital, which included in part that “the hospital is to care for those injured in accidents in the coal mines, coke ovens, railroads, and other industrial enterprises, regardless of race, sect or creed.”7
A fundraising campaign was held, which brought in $10,000 towards the construction of the hospital.7 A location was chosen at Fifth Avenue and Church Street, the site of the former Brownsville Public School which had just been razed. A second fundraising drive brought in $32,000 and several government appropriations were secured, but it was still not enough to construct the entire building. But seeing the dire need for a hospital, a contract was awarded to the Charleroi Lumber Company with the provision that construction would continue as long as the money remained in the bank account.
Despite the hospital being under construction, the facility began admitting patients in July 1914.5 7 The building was not completed until 1916 thanks to an additional fundraising campaign raised an additional $120,000; the extra funds also allowed for a surgical ward to be built.7 A nurses home was erected in 1920,8 but it was not long until the facilities were becoming overcrowded, with the home handling as many as 40 nurses at a time.
Another fundraiser was held in 1923 which brought in $100,000.7 Over $100,000 in funding came from Joseph Horner, partner in the Horner Coal Company, who “bequeathed a large sum of money to Brownsville General Hospital” when he died in 1926.8 As a result, construction for a larger nurses home began in September 1928,5 8 and in late-July 1929, the Horner Medical Nurses Home was dedicated.8 It became known as the Brownsville General Hospital’s School of Nursing 7 and was finished at a cost of $135,000 (fixtures added $15,000).8
The new nurses home was constructed of Indiana limestone and buff brick. The first floor contained ten bedrooms, a reception room that extended across the entire front of the building and two libraries. A Indiana limestone mantle was constructed at the west end of the parlor. The second and third floors were nearly identical, each containing 15 bedrooms, a large bathroom, and closets. The basement featured a gymnasium, demonstration room, lecture room, sewing room, kitchen, trunk room and boiler room. A sun porch was built on the roof of the home.
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 the School of Nursing closed, it became the Horner Memorial Nurses Home, a residence for some of the nurses who worked at the hospital across the road.6 The home later became a long-term care facility for the elderly.
The hospital constructed a third level to the hospital in April 1942, approximately 40-feet wide and 96-feet long.13 Built over the central section of the building, the addition provided room for an additional 13 patients. Four private rooms were built, along with one semi-private room, wards and an operating room.
The need for a new hospital by the 1960s had become clear when the General Hospital had 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 last year’s occupancy rate of 99.3%. The state recommendation at the time was that a hospital should only be 80% occupied so that the remaining 20% be made available in an emergency event. The hospital also had a waiting list of 20 to 25 patients daily for surgery or treatment.
A new Brownsville General Hospital was dedicated on Simpson Road on June 5, 1965, which replaced the Brownsville General Hospital.2 The old hospital was purchased by Frank Bock and was renovated into the Golden Age Nursing Home.6
But by the time the hospital had opened on the top of the hill, easily accessible to the planned U.S. Route 40 freeway, Brownsville was in a economic and population decline brought on by the decline of the steel industry and layoffs in the nearby coal mines. Rumors circulated as early as October 1976 that the new General Hospital, due to low patient intake numbers, was in danger of closing.9 The rumors were shrugged off, although the obstetrical unit was shuttered due to low demand. Layoffs began due to low patient counts in 1977 10 only 42 beds occupied, leaving 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 properly maintained and costs for its repairs were mounting.3 Revenues were also steadily declining. The non-profit board of the hospital solicited offers from groups and organizations for management of the facility and eventually turned over the reins of the hospital to a group of doctors which converted the hospital into a for-profit institution. One condition was passed, in that the non-profit board spent $150,000 in legal fees to ensure that in the event that the for-profit institution were to close, the hospital would remain open. The Brownsville General Hospital was renamed Tara Hospital.
On January 8, 2006, the Brownsville General Hospital closed due to financial difficulties and labor disputes, which left 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 due to bureaucracy. It was reopened on May 22, 2008 4 by a community group as the Brownsville Tri-County Hospital but was forced to close on February 12, 2009 due to additional financial troubles. The hospital had $1.2 million in assets but liabilities of more than $14.3 million. The remaining 15 patients were transferred to other facilities.
The latest closure came just after winning a battle in bankruptcy court just the day prior. Chief U.S. Bankruptcy Judge McCullough granted Brownsville Property Corp., which owned the land and building for the hospital, an injunction that prevented foreclosure by trustee Robert Bernstein.1 The injunction would remain in place until attorneys for Presidential Healthcare Credit Corp. appear in bankruptcy court. The company filed for a mortgage on the hospital property in December after allocating the hospital $2.5 million in short-term financing – a saving move that allowed the hospital to boast a stable cash flow while it worked out its liabilities.
Golden Age Nursing Home
After the Brownsville General Hospital relocated to its new location in 1965, the former hospital in the valley was converted into 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 the home on their visit which had lasted just fifteen minutes. Afterward, the two individuals sought attention to state and federal officials to complain about the Golden Age, writing to Pennsylvania Governor Richard Thornburgh, the state Secretary of Health, a state Senator, the HFCA, President Reagan, The United States Senate Special Committee on Aging, national and local television stations and Senator Heinz.
A federal survey was conducted at the nursing home on May 30, 31 and June 1, 1984 which uncovered serious violations. A follow-up shortly after by the state found other serious violations. As a result, the Medicare agreement with the nursing home was terminated and in July, the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare notified the home that its termination from Medicare also necessitated the termination from Medicaid.15 At that time, the Department of Health, based on the state and federal inspection records, suspended all new admissions to Golden Age. The nursing home 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, and
- A serious violation of laws relating to medical assistance and medicare reimbursement.
An appeal was heard 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 was reinstated in December 1985,16 along with admissions into Golden Age and Medicare payments. The Department of Health appealed, and the Commonwealth Court overturned the Board’s decision. The license was again revoked, along with the Medicare payments.14
While the proceedings with the state Board were ongoing, Golden Age sought federal help and 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 State Department of Health, Joyce McNamara, U.S. Senator John Heinz and two local women complained to the government about conditions at the nursing home after a tour in May 1983. Heinz was also the Chairman of the Senate’s Special Committee on Aging.15 The suit alleged that the four defendants 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. Afterward, Senator Heinz filed a motion for a summary judgement, followed by Wells and Snyder.
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.