Pittsburgh is rightfully proud of UPMC's reputation as one of the best health care systems in the country. I'm thankful to have UPMC and the "eds and meds" industries breathing life into our region. Education, research and health care are critical components to a thriving economy.
However, now that we have seen the vast scale of UPMC's largely tax-free real estate empire laid out in the Post-Gazette series "UPMC: Building a Giant Footprint" (Sept. 23-26), it is clear that it is time to renegotiate our relationship with UPMC, as well as with other large nonprofits in our community.
These articles, combined with the public dispute over money and market share between "nonprofit" health care giants, have made it common knowledge that, although UPMC does serve some charitable functions, it is more concerned with profit at the expense of city taxpaying residents and businesses.
We need to remember something very important. UPMC would not be the world-class health care system it is today without us. Pittsburgh residents are the ones who should decide where our shared resources are invested. City residents should choose what it is that benefits our community, and what doesn't.
The evidence is piling up that UPMC is not living up to its responsibilities. Earlier this summer the Allegheny County controller released a report detailing the cost of nonprofit tax breaks. We've heard stories of excessive executive pay, while front-line workers in UPMC hospitals work full time but still depend on public assistance to survive. Obviously, the money is not all going to "community benefits," as UPMC claims.
Since 2003, the city of Pittsburgh has cut its work force by 1,000 employees, eliminated police and fire positions, reduced employee benefits, reduced city services and deferred infrastructure improvements. During the same period, UPMC and our other mega medical institutions posted billions of dollars in "positive operating result" -- a.k.a. profit.
It has become clear that our community can no longer afford its current arrangement with UPMC and other institutions "of purely public charity." Things are working out great for UPMC's bottom line, but the same cannot be said for the rest of us.
The financial impact on our residents is far greater than the bread-crumb contributions taxpayers have been fed. This is why Pittsburgh Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak and I have asked the city's state financial overseers to support an investigation of the tax-exempt status of these organizations and to help convince the state Legislature to levy a payroll tax on them. This seems the only way we will get reimbursed for their direct impact on city services.
Darlene Harris is president of Pittsburgh City Council (pittsburghpa.gov/council).