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Thousands of patients reeling from clinic closures, doctors preparing for hospital shutdown

A new report filed in bankruptcy court sheds more light on the situation after the sudden closure of several health care clinics in the Berwick area.

BERWICK, Pa. — A new report filed in federal bankruptcy court paints a picture of just how dire the situation is for the nearly 5,000 patients left without care.

Almost two weeks ago, several of the clinics affiliated with the Berwick Hospital Center shut down with no prior warning to staff or patients.

Priyam Sharma owns both the clinics and the hospital but under two separate companies. The clinic company filed for bankruptcy protection just a few days before the closure. 

It's required by law for the court to appoint an ombudsman, a third-party investigator, to monitor the quality of patient care after a bankruptcy filing.

That investigator, Deborah Fisher, has filed her first report in court, and it's far from a ringing endorsement. 

Fisher said she has received numerous calls from concerned patients. She lists a few examples including a patient who had a mastectomy scheduled for this month, but now her doctor doesn't have a job. Another is on life-sustaining medications and has seizures that require treatment; she can't get into another clinic until October. 

Among the concerns in the report, the only remaining clinic is now getting overwhelmed with calls and requests from displaced patients. Dr. John Guerriero's clinic in Berwick is under the umbrella of Berwick Hospital, so it's still open - for now, at least.

All of the providers at the shuttered clinics were immediately locked out of the hospital's records system. That means a lot of work has now fallen on Dr. Guerriero's shoulders. On top of his regular job as a vascular surgeon, he's also filling prescriptions, sending out lab results, and ordering follow-up tests for the patients who now have no one else to turn to.

Meanwhile, he's also preparing to be shut down himself. The Department of Health confirmed last week that Sharma plans to close Berwick Hospital Center and turn it into a psychiatric facility.

Dr. Guerriero said he plans to open his own private practice in the fall with other providers who are now unemployed.

"I had a patient today that came in; she was crying, saying, 'please, are you still gonna be here, I want you to take care of me, you've taken care of my legs.' We want to be here, we plan on being here for a long time. I've been here for 15 years. I've become part of the community, I love the community. I raised my children here. And I want to stay here," Dr. Guerriero said.

The Department of Health also did not approve the hospital's initial closure plan, saying it was "lacking necessary information to provide for an orderly wind-down of acute care services."

Sharma did submit a new plan that's currently under review. 

We reached out to Sharma and her attorney, but have not heard back.

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