SUNBURY — Sunbury officials woke up Thursday morning "stunned," "shocked" and "saddened" after learning the news that UPMC Susquehanna Sunbury is shutting its doors in March.
"That place is an icon," city Treasurer Kevin Troup said. "My entire family, including myself, was born there."
Mayor Kurt Karlovich and city Administrator Jody Ocker were notified of the closing by the media, they said.
Ocker said she received a "courtesy call" from UPMC President Bob Kane nearly an hour after the news broke of the shuttering.
Ocker who served in the Air Force medical service division said she began to grill Kane for more information.
"I asked Mr. Kane specifically about mental health care and addiction care," she said. "These are prominent problems in our community. How are our people going to get access to those specific services and care?"
Kane said UPMC is increasing the number of inpatient psychiatric beds at their Williamsport location, Ocker said.
"My question remains, how will people get access to that care? He said they would have to go to Lewisburg, Danville or Shamokin hospitals and if those hospitals could not admit them, they would take them in Williamsport," Ocker said.
"But how are our people, many of whom have no access to transportation, are getting around on bicycles and electric scooters, going to get there to access the care they need? Furthermore, it’s not just about inpatient care. There is a great need for outpatient care and support to prevent people from spiraling into crises that would require inpatient admission."
Ocker said she feels for the city's first responders.
"People suffering a heart attack, stroke or other medical or traumatic emergency could present to the emergency department at Sunbury and be airlifted to lifesaving critical care," she said. "Now they will have to travel further to get access to emergency care adding 20-30 minutes before lifesaving intervention, which could result in a poorer outcome, more severe disability, and possibly loss of life."
Karlovich said he was angered by hospital officials not giving city leaders advanced notice of the decision.
"City officials have been in recent contact with senior staff members at UPMC discussing their involvement with the city’s community and economic development plans," Karlovich said. "No indications were given about an imminent closure."
Karlovich questioned UPMC executive's salaries.
"UPMC claims it is a 'nonprofit' entity while paying its executives and other employees millions of dollars per year, all while attempting to elude taxation by local entities," Karlovich said. "For a 'nonprofit' hospital to abruptly close its doors without even reaching out to community leaders in an effort to avoid the (closure) makes me call into question whether profits are not, in fact, the sole issue of concern to this entity."
Councilman Jim Eister said it was a "critical" day in the city.
"This will have an impact for a long time," Eister said. "So many people depended on the hospital and so many people did business with the hospital. This is very sad all around. I wish we would have had notice so we could have met with them and talked. We need to know the true reason for this. I think this could have been handled better."
Councilman Chris Reis said the closing was "upsetting."
"The abruptness of this closure is upsetting, of course, for many reasons. But as we saw in the case of Wood-Mode, we have community leaders and other businesses already stepping up to help these employees affected," he said. "We have a resilient community. We will continue economic efforts within the city and look for avenues to fill any empty buildings currently and potentially in the future within the city should this get to that point."
Incoming Councilman Josh Brosious said government leaders need to collaborate to keep the hospital's doors open.
"It is a tragedy to Sunbury and surrounding communities," Brosious said. "The city needs to work with county commissioners and state representatives to come up with solutions for the facility's problems. We need to try to keep this a health center for our citizens and surrounding community members."
Economic impacts of the hospital closing are yet to be known, Troup said.
Troup said 153 hospital employees are listed in city records and the city is set to at least lose $7,923 in local service tax.
"It's too early to tell what will happen," he said. "This hospital was a place everyone knew. This is an icon in our city and to see this all happen today is just sad all the way around. A lot of great people worked hard there and have supported every effort the hospital has made. I truly am just saddened by this huge loss to all of us."