December 29, 2008 |

UPMC plans to keep some services available at South Side hospital

Officials from UPMC South Side and UPMC Mercy hospitals attended the December luncheon meeting of the South Side Chamber of Commerce to further explain the decision to merge the healthcare facilities and close all or portions of the South Side hospital.

Nancy Magee, president of UPMC South Side, said the decision as to the hospital's future was a business decision focused on the ability to provide patient care.

Providing in-patient care has become a challenge, according to Ms. Magee, with the [patient] populations in hospitals becoming "very complex." Patients now don't come to the hospital unless they are very sick resulting in the hospitals having to provide high-tech specialty services.

"It's the responsibility of UPMC as a healthcare provider to evaluate its facilities," she said. All hospitals in the system undergo the same evaluation process.

Ms. Magee said that at South Side their success has come from their out-patient services. At times the hospital's population has been as few as 30 in-patients.

She said the decline in patient population reflects the hospital's service area, which extends as far as Dormont to the south, and has declined by 20,000 residents. The nine percent decline in population is expected to increase with another six percent of area residents leaving in the future by the health system's estimates.

Another deciding factor in the decision affecting UPMC South Side's future according to Ms. Magee is that 85 percent of area residents "choose to go elsewhere."

"Mercy had more primary in-patients from this area than South Side did," she later explained. Patients from South Pittsburgh go to Mercy 23 percent of the time opposed to choosing South Side only 15 percent of the time according to their research. "The patient goes where the doctor tells them to."

In addition, she said that the market reach of South Side and Mercy almost totally overlap.

Currently UPMC South Side has been stepping down somewhat by closing one in-patient unit in August with another in-patient unit slated to close in January. Ms. Magee said the services most used by area patients, including the diagnostic imaging, laboratory and ambulatory surgery units will remain for now.

The Emergency Room, which services nearly 23,000 patients a year, will transition into an urgent care center and operate at reduced hours. The hospital officials were confident that almost two-thirds of the patients seen at the Emergency Room would be able to be treated at the urgent care center.

The hospitals are working on a process to get patients directed to the urgent care center. They estimate that there will be 40 to 50 patients a day at the center, but need 80 to 90 patients each day to be financially viable.

Ms. Magee said under the plan they will operate the urgent care center for the next three to five years or "until the services aren't need." The hours for the center are expected to be from 9 a.m. to approximately 10 or 11 p.m., but still have to be determined.

Of the 712 employees at UPMC South Side, the health system has extended offers to more than 600 of them, mainly at UPMC Mercy. Ms. Magee said that they anticipate most of the workers having jobs elsewhere in the system.

UPMC is still evaluating what to do with the portions of the hospital that will be vacant. The first floor front entrance will remain open, as well as the second floor. They will also maintain some food service at the hospital.

Will Cook, president of UPMC Mercy, told those attending the chamber luncheon that he is looking at moving some of the out-patient services from Mercy to South Side. In addition, they

have commissioned a traffic study to look at the time it will take for patients and ambulances to get to Mercy, a parking analysis of the hospital, instituted valet parking and are doing a security assessment at the hospital on the Bluff.

"We've been meeting with the EMS companies to plan for what's ahead," Mr. Cook said. He pointed out that there are more than 200 EMS companies in the Pittsburgh area.

The hospital officials said there are currently no plans for the out parcels owned by UPMC. There are no plans to divest or sell the properties.

There are also no plans to do anything different with the Roesch-Taylor medical building.

"You may not live close to the hospital you go to, but you live close to the doctor you go to," Mr. Cook said.

The Mercy administrator again stated that he would "like to keep the out-patient ambulatory care at South Side" and that he would "try to reroute" some of the people from Mercy's Emergency Room to the urgent care center at South Side.

"We need to get the urgent care to about 90 patents a day," he said.

Ms. Magee said that as a tertiary hospital, Mercy will be able to provide services that South Side is unable to provide.

"As patients become more complex it becomes difficult to provide those services at a small neighborhood hospital," she said.

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