August 12, 2008
South Pittsburgh Reporter
While the president of UPMC South Side says the decision to close the hospital is final, local residents and elected officials at a recent public meeting made it clear they have just begun to fight to keep it open.
UPMC’s plan is to close the facility within five years as it consolidates with UPMC Mercy with a goal of providing the best possible patient care.
Upgrades, expansions, and additions — such as a larger emergency department and more operating rooms — are planned at UPMC Mercy to handle the extra patients.
At a July 15 meeting of the South Side Planning Forum, UPMC South Side president Nancy Magee said the decision to proceed with the consolidation is final.
But on August 6, about 125 residents gathered at the Market House in South Side to express their displeasure with the potential loss of a cherished community asset, citing the negative impact on seniors, additional two-mile ride in ambulances, parking situation at UPMC Mercy, the traffic gridlock on the bridges, unsafe neighborhood surrounding UPMC Mercy, and more.
Besides hearing neighbors echoing fears similar to their own, attendees learned they have support from elected officials.
The meeting was called by city Councilman Bruce Kraus to solicit input from the community, and discuss a strategy to try to keep UPMC South Side open.
“This is an ongoing battle we’re going to fight,” said Mr. Kraus.
A first step is for residents, business owners, and community groups — in South Side and surrounding areas — to write letters of support, which Mr. Kraus will present to UPMC President and Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Romoff at a future meeting.
Letters should be sent to Mr. Kraus’s office: City-County Building, Suite 510/Floor 5, 414 Grant St., Pittsburgh, PA 15219.
Letters may be as short as a sentence, or as long as a few paragraphs. Handwritten ones are most effective, he said.
Signed petitions should also be sent to his office.
Other elected officials in attendance included state Rep. Harry Readshaw, Councilman Bill Peduto, state Sen. Jay Costa, state Rep. Jake Wheatley, Jr., and state Sen. Wayne Fontana. Representatives of U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle and state Rep. Chelsa Wagner were also present.
Calling UPMC South Side “an anchor of the community,” Mr. Peduto said “there’s a lot of things that the hospital provides” in addition to quality health care, such as jobs, a more livable neighborhood, peace of mind for families, walking-distance convenience for seniors, and more.
“They need to understand the importance they have on the South Side,” he said of UPMC officials.
As the giant non-profit must come before council for permits, variances, and such, the city has some leverage in UPMC’s actions, he said.
“Obviously we have a big problem here,” said Mr. Readshaw, who expressed concerns about St. Clair and Jefferson hospitals being the only hospitals south of the river if UPMC South Side closes.
“We have to find out what we can do on the local, city, and state levels,” said Mr. Costa.
Besides losing a quality-care institution in the center of the neighborhood, Mr. Kraus said the closing “will create a huge vacuum” as 700 to 800 employees will be misplaced.
While UPMC officials have said no loss of jobs is expected as employees will be absorbed into the UPMC system, Mr. Kraus said the loss of 700 potential customers will have a ripple effect on South Side businesses such as restaurants, taverns, shops and more.
A doctor at UPMC South Side said the hospital needs to remain open for the health and well-being of the community.
“You are the only one who is important,” he said.
Among the residents who spoke was a woman who said her handicapped mother and brother rely on UPMC South Side.
Another resident recalled that there were once two hospitals in the area.
“Why do they want to take the heart of South Side?” she said.
To a question of whether the sales contract addresses potential closings, Mr. Kraus said he is trying to obtain a copy of the agreement in which South Side Hospital became UPMC South Side.
To a question of whether a traffic study of the bridges was done, Mr. Kraus said the city will do one.
He also said that, as chair of public safety, he is worried that if a catastrophic event takes out the bridges, there would not be enough capacity in the south to care for all the patients.
Other suggestions included studies on the number of hospital beds per population being served, and on emergency room waiting times.
A resident commented that beside the employees, other displaced persons would include UPMC South Side’s large volunteer base, and seniors who travel there for meals in the cafeteria
A realtor commented that property values will drop if the hospital closes.
A senior Belzhoover woman said when she heard that the decision to close UPMC South Side was final, her “heart sank.”
But recalling her marching during the civil rights struggle, “this is nothing” she said of the challenges the community faces to keep the hospital open.
The consolidation is scheduled to begin next summer when inpatient services are moved to UPMC Mercy or other UPMC hospitals.
Then, when the UPMC South Side emergency department closes, an urgent care center will be set up on the site that will be open about 16 hours a day.
That center, ambulatory services, imaging, and more will move within three to five years.