May 19, 2009 |

UPMC South Side prepares to become outpatient facility

UPMC South Side is continuing the process of transforming from a full service inpatient hospital into the UPMC Mercy South Side Outpatient Center on July 1.

In another step, last week the Spinal Cord Injury program moved from South Side to Mercy Hospital. In mid-to-late June other programs including the Stroke and Brain Injury programs will transition to Mercy and rehabilitation patients will be moved.

According to UPMC officials, the move of rehabilitation patients will take place in a similar manner to the recent move of Children's Hospital patients to the new Lawrenceville facility.

Will Cook, CEO of UPMC Mercy, said that beginning on June 24 inpatients will not be admitted to the South Side hospital and those surgery cases requiring hospital admission will no longer be performed at the hospital.

In preparation for the closing of the Emergency Department (ED) at 6 a.m. on June 30, hospital officials have been meeting with local ambulance services to make them aware of the change. The ED will undergo a comprehensive overnight cleaning and open the next day at 9 a.m. as an Urgent Care Center.

The center will operate 365 days a year with hours slated for 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. each day, the industry standard for similar facilities. The hours may be adjusted, such as extended hours on the weekends, if the need arises.

The center will be able to handle minor medical emergencies including sprains, minor cuts and broken bones as well as colds and other health problems. Initially, the hospital will have ambulances waiting to transport patients who come in with major problems to UPMC Mercy's Emergency Department.

Mr. Cook said that they estimate the Urgent Care Center will operate at a nearly $1 million yearly deficit at current patient projections. He said that the hospital is operating the center because at all the community meetings concerning the closing of UPMC as an in-patient facility, residents have been outspoken in their support of some kind of walk-in emergency center.

When the hospital ceases being a full-service in-patient facility on June 30, according to state law they will no longer be able to operate the Emergency Department.

Mr. Cook says that many patients will not be affected by the other changes at the hospital. Patients and visitors will still enter through the main entrance on Mary Street, still be able to have blood drawn at the lab on the second floor and still be able to have out-patient surgery at the hospital.

They anticipate operating six to eight operating rooms for outpatient surgery. Due to Department of Health regulations for Ambulatory Surgery Facilities, the outpatient surgical services will be operated as a separate facility and renamed the UPMC Mercy South Side Surgery Center.

Patients will continue to be able to go to South Side for film X-rays, fluoroscopy, EKG, mammography and other noncomplex imaging services, but CT and MRI services are slated to be removed from the South Side hospital and moved to UPMC Mercy in the fall. Mr. Cook said the reason for the move was economics: without the inpatient population there wouldn't be enough volume to justify having the pricy equipment in South Side.

In response to patients' concerns about getting to and from UPMC Mercy from South Side, the Birmingham Foundation will be funding a shuttle service back and forth between the

hospitals. Mr. Cook explained that if a patient was seeing a doctor in South Side or at the Urgent Care Center who requested an MRI, the patient could be transported to Mercy for the MRI where they would be given priority appointments and then shuttled back where they started from.

He said the patient would have the option of making their own appointment and getting to and from the appointment on their own.

Patients will still be able to see their doctors in the Roesch-Taylor Medical Building and UPMC plans to continue to operate a GI lab, a medical procedure unit and pain management services in South Side. They will continue to operate the gift shop that will include a small café serving breakfast and lunch items as well as snack items.

UPMC is looking to convert the vacated portions of the hospital into other uses within the health system. Mr. Cook explained that UPMC is spending more that $54 million on rent at facilities throughout the system. He said they will be examining leases as they come up to see if those facilities can be moved into the building.

The UPMC Mercy CEO said that they listened to the concerns South Side residents had about crossing the river and going up to Mercy and have made some changes. They have underwent a comprehensive security assessment at Mercy and have hired more security officers and improved lighting among other things.

Mercy has also added a valet parking program and is now providing a voucher for two hours of free parking for patients and family members.

"It's costing me a lot of money," Mr. Cook said. "But people wanted it."

In an effort to improve service, the hospital on the Bluff also added nursing, housekeeping and other ancillary service personnel to the staff.

They are also looking at several strategies to get the word out to the neighborhoods in the hospital's service area about the changes in South Side: what will move and what will remain and the operating hours. In the coming weeks, Mr. Cook and other UPMC officials also expect to attend community meeting and visit senior centers to explain the changes in person.

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