With bells, prayer, and a host of heavenly voices, Mercy Hospital gave way to UPMC Mercy yesterday, all the while pledging to continue its 161-year tradition of providing quality care with help from above, and perhaps some from its new partner on the ground.
Billed as a "celebration of remembrance, thanksgiving and transition," yesterday's hour-long ceremony in the Mercy Holy Family Chapel featured Bible readings, personal reflections, and a symbolic lighting of three wicks from the same candle to signify the new partnership between the Sisters of Mercy, the Pittsburgh Catholic Diocese and UPMC.
Tuesday officially marked the change in ownership, with Mercy becoming UPMC Mercy, a marriage that has been blessed by the Vatican itself.
Yesterday's affair served not only to honor Mercy's rich history, starting with its founding by the Sisters of Mercy in 1847, but to emphasize that the tradition of Catholic health care will live on for years to come, with UPMC's business muscle behind it.
"Mercy Hospital has been a beacon of Catholic health care for so many years. Today we can celebrate that uninterrupted health care in southwestern Pennsylvania for many years to come," Bishop David A. Zubik said in his remarks.
Bishop Zubik said the agreement with UPMC requires Mercy to remain a Catholic hospital, one with a "very careful fidelity" to principles based on the church's moral teachings, including caring for the poor, contributing to the common good and a "dedication to respecting the absolute sacredness of human life."
Afterward, the bishop said the merger between the two health-care systems proved to be a good match.
"I think UPMC brings with it a great success in terms of the business enterprise [end] of it and they've allowed the diocese, together with the Sisters of Mercy, to make sure we keep the Catholic health-care part of the hospital continuing on," he said.
Mary Beth Joos, a cardiac nurse who is in her 29th year at Mercy, said she found some solace through the service, which included songs by the Sisters of Mercy Choir, music by Sisters of Charity Bell Choir, and a "blessing of the hands" ceremony.
She said everybody at the hospital has been on pins and needles about their future, whether jobs will be lost or pay levels changed. She said they have been told it will be status quo for now.
"Having the service today helped a little bit. We see the Sisters of Mercy and they keep reassuring us that this is the best thing," she said.
While some may look at UPMC's Mercy acquisition as a mere extension of the health-care giant's growing empire, others saw the hand of God at work, particularly given Mercy's financial struggles.
Sister Joan Laboon read from a passage from the Annals of the Sisters of Mercy that recounted the early struggles the hospital faced and came with a message that seemed appropriate yesterday.
"Yet it is always in crises like these that the hand of God is most visible. Relief comes, the crisis passes, and God's work goes on," she read.
In his remarks, Jeffrey Romoff, UPMC president and chief executive officer, commended Mercy for a decision that was "not at all easy and very unusual" but yet proved to be the right one.
"You have taken a 160-year tradition of excellence, of commitment, you have taken a contemporary situation of great difficulty in a difficult world and you have managed to find a way to transition that, to preserve the best of what you have built and to trust it to someone else in a most modern of ways while losing nothing of the spirit," he said.
While Mr. Romoff did not mention operational issues in his remarks, he said he was moved by the invitation of Sister Margaret Hannan, president of the Sisters of Mercy, for UPMC to join their ministry.
"If joining in the ministry means sustaining the highest quality care for our citizens, if joining in the ministry means respecting and honoring and following the edicts of Catholic health care, if joining in our ministry means serving this community, the poor as well as the rich, and if joining in the ministry means in doing that in such a fashion that we can be both charitable and successful, then I can only say that it is a great honor to join in your ministry," he said.
With Mercy, UPMC extends its lead as the largest hospital system in southwestern Pennsylvania, with about 50 percent of the market in Allegheny County alone.
Ms. Joos admitted to having some trepidation about the merger and what it will mean to Mercy's tradition of caring and compassionate care. Deep down inside, she believes that will continue under new ownership.
"The touch of Mercy will still shine through, I think," she said.
West Penn Allegheny Health System announced yesterday that it had finalized the merger of Allegheny General Hospital and The Western Pennsylvania Hospital.
The official integration involves a consolidation of the health system's board of directors and the respective boards of AGH and West Penn into a single governing entity.
According to W. Keith Smith, president and chief executive officer, West Penn Allegheny has begun to integrate a number of clinical areas; he emphasized the process was being led by physicians working in conjunction with administrative leaders.
Staff writer Dan Fitzpatrick contributed to this story. Mark Belko can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1262. First Published January 4, 2008 5:00 AM