FOSTER TOWNSHIP, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU)- A battle is taking shape in Harrisburg over a proposal to close five state run facilities that take care of people with intellectual disabilities.
Two of those centers are in our region and between them, nearly 500 patients would have to find a new place for care. An additional 1,200 people would have to find a new job.
The proposal is creating a lot of fear and anxiety among the families of the patients and the employees of these facilities- but that's not all. The owners of businesses near these centers say they too would be impacted by the closures.
One convenience mart is located about one mile away from the White Haven Center. For those employed at Fuel ONE Convenience Mart, the word of any closing is not good news.
"We do have a lot of people who come in here in the morning to get coffee and a lot of people get their cigarettes or order their lunches here," says Kathy Juchniewicz, a manager at the convenience mart. "It would have a large impact."
State lawmakers are considering closing the White Haven Center and four other similar facilities. Supporters of the plan say the closures would improve care for the residents by moving them into private community centers, while at the same time saving taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.
But the loss of 400 employees from the White Haven Center is a number that really hits home in the small community.
"They've talked about it for years about closing, so it hasn't happened yet. Hopefully it won't," says Juchniewicz. "I'm friends with a lot of the people who work there and I don't want to see anyone lose their jobs."
The Landmark White Haven Diner would also take a big hit if 400 jobs up the street are lost.
"We would lose a lot of take out orders," says Heather Meehan, an employee at the diner. "Three or four times a week we get orders from different departments up there. These are big take outs."
State Representative Gerald Mullery says he and other opponents of the plan say they will fight the closures just as they did earlier this year when they fought the proposed closings of three state prisons in our area.
"When the prison announcement came, Senator Yudichak and I spent 30 days trying to gather as much information as we could to be proper advocates of those facilities," says Mullery. "I'm trying to get out in front of the White Haven issues."
The proposal would also impact the Selinsgrove State Center in Snyder County. 800 people are employed there, taking care of around 300 residents. The loss of these workers would also mean the loss of employee tax revenue for the local communities.
The legislation is now before the State House Health Committee. Public hearings would also be held into the issue. Governor Tom Wolf has not taking a position on the legislation.