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Fighting to keep First Hospital open

A demonstration took place Thursday outside a hospital in Luzerne County that's slated to close.

KINGSTON, Pa. — Employees from First Hospital on Wyoming Avenue in Kingston planned to speak out against the planned closure at a news conference on Thursday, but a union representative tells Newswatch 16 they were told their jobs would be on the line if they did.

State lawmakers and a parent did the talking for them.

"Something needs to be done, and the right people need to be held accountable, and it doesn't need to be done on the head of these patients or the head of my child," said Jennifer Mickle-Symons of Larksville.

She joined nurses and some state lawmakers outside First Hospital in Kingston.

Earlier this week, Commonwealth Health announced plans to close the place by October. Mickle-Symons worries about her teenage son, who takes part in one of the hospital's treatment programs.

"For him, this could mean severe regression. It could lead to further depressions, a spiral of things like that. And as of right now, he's stated, 'Where do I go from here? Why do I bother?''

Mickle-Symons says that the next closest option for her son is an hour away in Tunkhannock. State lawmakers understand her concern.

"The closure of this hospital will send shock waves throughout, not just this community, but the greater region. Make no mistake, these shock waves and ripple effects will not just impact Luzerne County but all of northeastern Pennsylvania," said Rep. Aaron Kaufer, (R) 120th District.

First Hospital has provided psychiatric treatment for people of all ages since 1983. The lawmakers plan to pressure state agencies and Commonwealth Health to make sure that the hospital's staff, along with patients and their families, are taken care of.

"All we want are the facts and the truth. How can you close a facility with 5,000 patients without some sort of backup plan? So we are going to work together to make sure these 5,000 patients and their 300-plus nurses continue to serve these people," said Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski, (D) 121st District.

We reached out to Commonwealth Health, but no one got back to us. Earlier in the week, Commonwealth Health said in a statement that it is open to having someone else take over First Hospital and the behavioral health services it offers.

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