UPMC officials quizzed on status of South Side facilities
August 17, 2021
UPMC officials met last week with members of the South Side Community Council (SSCC) to provide updates on the former hospital building at 20th and Mary streets; a new proposed childcare center on Carson at 24rd Street; and the status of the center at 23rd and Jane streets.
Facilitating the online meeting was SSCC president Barbara Rudiak. She was joined by Vice-President of Operations at UPMC Mercy Julie Hecker; Rob Shulik, the 23rd and Jane streets facility's executive administrator; and, Margaret Bell from UPMC's corporate real estate division.
Concerns over the recent rezoning of the former hospital building and what plans UPMC had for the building along with the reduction of hours and ability of the facility to accommodate some patients prompted the meeting.
SSCC Board Member Mike Clark explained it was their understanding UPMC Mercy would be undergoing an Institutional Master Plan (IMP) for the Mercy campus, which includes the buildings on the former South Side hospital campus. He said an IMP projects out five, ten and/or 15 years with expected changes and facilitates a lesser process with getting approval from the city.
Instead, Mr. Clark said, UPMC allowed the old IMP to expire, reverting the South Side to its former Urban Industrial (UI) zoning.
"As a community, and as an architect, I can tell you that scares the crap out of me because I'm a block away. Because Urban Industrial, a cement factory or recycling depot is as a right," Mr. Clark said. "That Roesch Taylor building, you could sell that and they could put a cement factory in there and none of us would have a lick to say about it in the eyes of the city and our due process."
He also noted UPMC is the largest land owner in South Side, other than the city and "that scares us."
"We're putting a lot of trust in you to do the right thing," he added.
Ms. Bell said the last time when they came to the South Side Planning Forum, they were looking at putting the UPMC IT department in the former hospital building, then COVID hit and everyone went to work from home.
"And basically, they're still there. That project isn't happening," she said.
She added they have a lot of vacancy in all their buildings, including the Steel Building where she works.
When COVID hit, she said, they started using the Mary Street building for everything COVID related and continue to use it for those purposes. At that point, she added, they haven't had any discussions for reuse of the building after COVID.
Concerns about the childcare center are centered around a zoning variance asked for by local developer, WAG 4 LLP, for the parking lot and playground proposed for behind the building at 24th and Sarah streets.
Mr. Clark said the parking lot and playground wouldn't have gotten support if it were anywhere else in the neighborhood or anyone else asking for the variance because it's "taking away from the fabric of the residential portion of the neighborhood." Parking lots in a residential neighborhood can lead to more litter and more crime.
He also said neighbors were wondering why another parking lot was needed when UPMC has multiple lots in the South Side. They also wondered why the Mary Street campus with vacant buildings and existing parking lots couldn't have been used for the children's program.
Ms. Hecker said she is an advocate for the reuse of the Mary Street campus and suggested it for the children's program. The problem she said was the location, because it's a children's program it has to be located on a busline and not three blocks away.
Ms. Bell also explained UPMC doesn't own the 24th Street building, but from a developer's perspective, they are looking at 10 years down the road if UPMC leaves. The building is more viable, now and in the future, with parking available.
She added some of the staff for the children's program wanted nearby parking and they also needed a safe place for children to be dropped off and picked up. However, they won't be parking all of the staff in the lot.
It was suggested those employees could use a UPMC parking lot at 28th and Carey instead of the South Lot which is further down Sarah and often overcrowded.
Ms. Rudiak expressed concerns that since employees have to pay for parking, they may choose to park in the neighborhood, contributing to ongoing residential parking problems.
The discussion segued into questions about the transition from the outpatient center in the former hospital to the 23rd street facility. People were unclear if it was an urgent care or an outpatient or a walk-in center and what the difference was. There were also concerns about the reduction in hours at the facility.
"If you look at a map, it's like we're in an urgent care center desert," Mr. Clark said. "For us to not have one is regrettable and we're, kind of, feeling the need for it."
Ms. Hecker said it used to be a UPMC Mercy service and they always intended for it to be an urgent care center. However, they always struggled with volume there.
Mr. Shulik has only been the executive administrator there for about a month, but said they do offer walk-in availability. Currently, they have a Monday through Friday day operation there.
They have two positions in recruitment at the location for advanced practice providers (physician assistant, nurse practitioner). After hiring, they plan to bring back the extended hours, but those hours are unclear at this time.
"But we do have a commitment to offering some weekend and evening hours," Mr. Shulik said.
When asked why other UPMC urgent care centers have extended and weekend hours, Ms. Hecker said it was simply do to volume. When Mercy offered the extended hours, people weren't using them.
"If the volume's there, we can expand hours. We just need to figure out, hopefully with your help, how do we do that," Ms. Hecker said. "How do we get people to utilize the service more? What are the avenues that we can use to get to the community to say that we are here, come?"
She said it seems that people want the service, but it's not translating into patients.
"We're like any other business, we can't be there 24/7 if there isn't a desire for people to come to us," she added.
Councilman Bruce Kraus noted the lack of healthcare facilities in Zip Codes 15203 and 15210 and suggested the 23rd Street center would be better utilized if it were better identified with signage and better advertised.
Mr. Shulik said they have a one-page flyer explaining the services offered at the facility and are willing to get the word out. It was suggested to send out the flyer once the students return back in the fall. It was suggested a flyer be passed out at the annual South Side Street Party along with other events including the StepTrek, Soup Contest and Goatfest.
Several residents at the meeting asked for better signage at the 23rd Street location to identify the facility. Ms. Hecker asked if better signage at the Mary Street location, directing people to the new location, would be helpful. The consensus from those replying was that it would.
Mr. Shulik added they should either wait to do the directional signs until the hours at the walk-in center are finalized or post the hours on the signage so people don't come when it's not open.
Another concern for residents was maintenance at UPMC properties throughout South Side. High weeds, dead trees and litter were among the problems mentioned.
Ms. Bell said she would take responsibility for taking a look at seeing what UPMC can do. "South Side should be clean all the time, so I'll take a look at that myself and see if we can get that taken care of."
Ms. Rudiak asked for UPMC to come to the regularly scheduled meeting of the South Side Planning Forum, perhaps quarterly, to update the community on the status of the Mary Street campus, the walk-in clinic and maintenance issues discussed.
Ms. Hecker replied she thought they would be "very up for that."