Give us more time, UPMC: Let us find someone else to run a hospital in Braddock
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
By Jesse Brown and John Fetterman
At first we pleaded with UPMC to preserve the core of our community. Keep UPMC Braddock open, we implored CEO Jeffrey A. Romoff.
Smacked down on that request, we're now seeking something simpler -- time. Really, we're begging UPMC to give us 18 months to find someone else to operate Braddock Hospital.
Hospital officials shocked Braddock's elected officers with phone calls Oct. 15 telling us that UPMC would close the facility on Jan. 31. UPMC had never approached us and asked for our help in increasing the hospital's census or resolving financial problems. UPMC didn't mention any difficulties just a year earlier when it took a $3 million grant from the state to renovate the hospital.
It jumped us all with this bad news. Mr. Romoff gave us a total of 108 days to persuade him to change his mind or to find a buyer to keep the hospital open.
It just was not enough time.
We tried to explain to Mr. Romoff that the hospital is our everything. It's not just an emergency room and physicians' offices and 123 beds in a century-old facility that Mon Valley steelworkers helped construct on Braddock's main street. The building also contains the town's YMCA, its only restaurant, its only ATM machine. With 600 employees, it's the town's largest employer -- by far.
It helps to define Braddock. It is the town's essence. UPMC, a nonprofit institution, did not seem to understand or care about the magnitude of killing this community center, not even the significance of committing the act in the dead of winter.
Mr. Romoff informed us there was no turning back for UPMC Braddock, which had lost $7.5 million in 2009. That's out of the hospital network's budget of $8 billion, one that pays Mr. Romoff $3 million a year and approximately $6.7 million to lease two jets for travel to UPMC facilities in Qatar, Italy, Ireland and England.
But, Mr. Romoff told us, if Braddock or Allegheny County or some other institution would like to take the hospital off UPMC's hands, he'd gladly unload it for the sum of one buck.
That is our goal now. We are searching for a new administrator for our community hospital. We've got the help of the county's economic development office and two students from Duquesne University who are investigating potential partners. They've found 15 so far. But there's a lot of work to do. Each must be recruited to consider Braddock. They'll want to research our community's potential, the hospital's condition and whether we're a good fit for their objectives.
We've got the support of officials from 14 surrounding towns -- including Wilkinsburg, Braddock Hills, Forest Hills, Munhall, Duquesne, Edgewood and Turtle Creek -- who have passed resolutions opposing the closing and are actively working with us toward saving the facility they consider their hospital as well.
We just need time. If the hospital closes Jan. 31, a new operator found later would have to go through the long, costly and arduous process of getting the facility re-licensed. If it remains open, that would not be necessary.
Frankly, we don't think that's too much to ask of UPMC. This institution claims to be a nonprofit, a status that qualifies it for exemptions from property and other taxes paid by corporations that own big buildings like Braddock hospital. The title of the state law granting tax-exempt status to nonprofits is telling: "The Institutions of Purely Public Charity Act."
Nonprofits, such as UPMC, "benefit substantially from local government services," the law notes. Without paying a cent, they receive, for example, police and fire protection. In exchange, the nonprofit is supposed to donate charitable services. This is what the act says: "The institution must donate or render gratuitously a substantial portion of its services."
We are asking UPMC, as part of its nonprofit obligation, to donate services to Braddock for 18 months. We don't think that is too much to ask. The amount of its potential losses, we believe, is insubstantial compared to its budget, the million-dollar salaries of its executives and its jet leases. And we are willing to work with UPMC to increase its profitability in Braddock.
In UPMC's mission, values and ethics statement, nowhere does it mention its charitable obligation. It talks about "development of new businesses" and about developing "comprehensive policies that support its business values and principles."
To prove that it's not a predatory corporation, closing a hospital in a community that desperately needs it while constructing a hospital in Monroeville, which already has one, UPMC must grant Braddock time. If UPMC really is a nonprofit, complying with the "Purely Public Charity Act," it must, at the least, give Braddock officials time to save our community hospital, the soul of our borough.
Jesse Brown is president of Braddock Borough Council and John Fetterman is the mayor of Braddock. This article also was signed by borough council members Mildred Devich, Milan Devich, Tina Doose, Matthew Thomas and William Zachery.