Braddock Hospital closing spurs community standoff

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Since the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center announced the closing of Braddock Hospital last month, several meetings and rallies have been held with local government and community organizers banding together to oppose the closing.

On Nov. 23 a private meeting was held to form a group charged with the task of preventing the closure. It will likely be made up of people such as Allegheny County Council members, congressmen, local pastors and representatives from Heritage Health Systems.

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DRESS UP—From left; Lisa White, Israel Wright, Destiny Naletta, Egypt Wight, and John Wight dress up as nurses, doctors, patients and Gen. Edward Braddock to protest the hospital closing.

“Their sole purpose will be to come up with new ideas regarding UPMC Braddock closing to see if there is a way to prevent the closing,” said Braddock Borough manager Ella Jones. “We’re definitely trying to make it not final.”

In October, UPMC announced they would cease operations at Braddock hospital on Jan. 31. The suddenness of the announcement is part of what bothers the community most as they say adequate notice should’ve been given.

“The concerns in the community are we were all blind-sided by this, there was no notice given by the local officials, which we feel should’ve taken place to give the residents fair warning,” Jones said. “When something like this takes place this isn’t something that happens overnight. So they have known, but they decided not to share this with the community or even their employees”

The hospital employs 652 people, 70 of whom are Braddock residents. Jones also said the hospital serves as an economic hub for the borough and its closing could hurt surrounding businesses.

“They have been promised jobs at other UPMC hospitals, but these jobs are not comparable with the jobs they’ve had,” Jones said. “The borough itself would lose a great deal of money from the hospital closing.”

UPMC has said their reasoning for closing the hospital is because the facility is being underutilized. However, Jones said these statements are not true, specifically referencing to the mental health and detox, which have waiting lists.

“A lot of the residents who rely on the hospital are senior citizens. The hospital does not just serve the community of Braddock, as they would have you believe,” Jones said. “The numbers they have given to justify the closing are not realistic. They have adjusted those numbers to meet their needs.”

Allegations have also been made that UPMC’s decision was born out of the decision to build facilities in Monroeville. However, UPMC spokesman Paul Wood said the cause of underutilization at the Braddock hospital is because many area residents are already visiting facilities in other areas.

“The decision to close UPMC Braddock was made solely as a result of continuing declining community utilization of the facility and is independent of any plans to build a new hospital in Monroeville.  UPMC Monroeville is not scheduled to open until 2012 to meet the growing demands for UPMC’s services from patients and physicians in that area,” Wood said. “Already 80 to 90 patients per day are choosing to travel from the Monroeville area for treatment at our hospitals in the Oakland area, which are at or near full capacity.  Braddock area residents are coming to our Oakland-based hospitals for the same reasons as Monroeville area residents and why shouldn’t they—access to highly specialized clinical expertise by some of the best physicians available anywhere.”

Wood dismissed concerns regarding employees, highlighting how several have already been successfully transferred to other facilities. He also explained that those being transferred would retain their pensions and insurances.

“UPMC did not cut jobs to save costs or to reduce losses—if the closure of UPMC Braddock was about anything other then the facility’s underutilization, UPMC would not have taken the steps it has to preserve jobs,” Wood said. “It’s still very early in the process just five weeks after the announcement, but full- and part-time employees whose transfers to other UPMC facilities have been completed are seeing, on average, an increase of more than five percent.  This is due to many factors, including shift changes and where they may be transferring to, and it certainly should not be construed as indicative of what will happen to each individual full- or part-time employee as the process continues.”

UPMC has offered to donate the Braddock building to the city, however many do not want to consider other options for the building until they have done everything possible to prevent the closure.

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