A Hospital Slowly Fades Away in Rural Pennsylvania

Philadelphia Inquirer, Jason Nark, April 5, 2023

Berwick, a town of about 10,000 in Columbia County, is without a hospital for the first time in more than a century.

The emergency room was dark, the doors locked for months now, and a young woman stood outside in the rain, clutching her stomach and sobbing. No one was coming out to help.

The frantic people who drove the ailing woman to the hospital stood, dumbfounded, in the mostly empty parking lot.

“This is insane,” the driver said. “I’m going to have to call 911.”

On Sept. 17, the Pennsylvania Department of Health shut down Berwick Hospital Center’s emergency room because of a lack of staffing, accelerating a closure its owners planned out earlier that summer. Signs on the doors still advise patients to head to hospitals in Hazleton, 20 miles to the south, or Bloomsburg, 14 miles west, for emergencies. The 90-bed facility is currently operating only as a 14-bed inpatient geriatric psychiatry facility — but not everyone in this town of 10,349 on the Susquehanna River in Columbia County, knows that.

On that dreary March morning, the ill woman was carried back to a car to wait for an ambulance. Bette Grey, a Berwick resident and private medical advocate who fought, unsuccessfully, to keep the hospital open, was there to talk to The Inquirer. First, she watched her fears unfold.

“Hey, stay awake. Open your eyes,” Grey yelled, to the woman in the car, clapping her hands.

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