Medical Center: Where’s the Money?

GIRARDVILLE -- People in part of Schuylkill County raised thousands of dollars to bring doctors' offices back to their rural borough. They wanted those offices so older folks would not have to drive miles to get health care.

But five years later the community has nothing to show for it and those who donated are asking, "where's my money?"

Girardville is like some other rural communities in northeastern and central Pennsylvania -- the population is declining, doctors have left town, and now a plan to bring a medical center to the borough is just about dead.

Empty businesses and empty homes line Main Street in Girardville. but people living in this community in Schuylkill County remember a glimmer of hope sparked here five years ago.

That's when Philadelphia area businessman James Balk announced plans to raise money and bring in a medical center.

Paul Houser and his 78-year-old mother Katherine gave $100 dollars to what was called the Girardville Area Medical and Professional Center or GAMPC. The borough gave the group park land to build the facility.

"Some place where these older people could get medical help, and not have to drive far to do it," said Houser.

"I wouldn't have had to worry about somebody driving me to the ER, or trying to drive myself," said Edna Labie

Edna Labie, 82, has lived in Girardville since the 1950s. She also gave $100.

"When I first came to Girardville, we had three doctors in our town," said Labie.

There have been zero doctors for almost 20 years, which is why Labie and Houser became bronze-level donors to the GAMPC project for giving $100.

Houser says it made his mother proud.

"'I'm going to donate money in your father's name,'" Houser recalled her saying. "And they're supposedly going to put up a plaque in the lobby with his name on it."

Civic groups donated thousands to the cause.

A fundraising brochure suggests the project even received a $25,000 pledge for naming rights to an exam room.

The group's fundraising letter in December 2012 claimed that when it built the facility, "the Geisinger Health System will move in immediately."

A follow-up letter claims, "Geisinger Health is committed to us."

But a Geisinger spokesman claims it met GAMPC members and in an email said, 'those discussions did not lead to an agreement or contract and we informed those involved in the Girardville Professional Building that we would not commit to being part of this project."

"Whoever they told should have stepped up and said, 'wait a second, Geisinger's never going to get on with this building,' but I never knew that," said Houser.

We called GAMPC President James Balk at his home near Philadelphia about his group's claims and Geisinger's denial. Balk did not return our calls.

Twice we tried to reach the GAMPC Vice President Joseph Wayne at his home in Girardville. Wayne did not answer his door, or return our calls.

We told GAMPC board member Joe Chiaretti that Geisinger denied ever committing to the project.

"That's true," said Chiaretti. "I don't ever remember any signed contract."

Chiaretti says Geisinger showed an interest in staffing a medical center five years ago but added the project seems to have run out of steam.

"I don't have much hope for anything right now," said Chiaretti.

"I feel cheated, and it's not just the money, it's that the building's not there," said Houser.

Houser's mother died last year believing the $100 she and her son gave would help bring a doctor's office back to Girardville and a glimmer of hope back to this community.

"I think I have a right to know, just like anybody else who donated money has a right to know what happened," Houser added.

Joe Chiaretti, the only member of the committee who talked with us, says he believes the group has some money left in the bank but adds the committee has not met in three years.

Chiaretti wants to find out how much money is left and hopes people and organizations can get back a fraction of what they donated.

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