New era begins for UPMC South Side Hospital

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Without fanfare, the last patient at UPMC South Side Hospital was transferred across the river to UPMC Mercy yesterday.

Following the transfer of 12 rehabilitation patients on Wednesday, the South Side hospital, which was established in the late 19th century, is now essentially functioning as an urgent-care facility for minor illnesses and emergencies, as well as outpatient care including blood work and some imaging services.

The stroke program moved to Mercy earlier this month. Last month, it was the spinal cord injury program.

Officially, South Side won't give up its hospital designation until Tuesday, when the emergency department closes.

On July 1, the hospital founded in the early 1890s becomes UPMC Mercy South Side Outpatient Center, operating from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.

UPMC, which purchased South Side Hospital in 1996 announced a year ago that it would close and be consolidated with UPMC Mercy, sparking protests among local residents and some politicians representing the neighborhood. At the time of the announcement in June 2008, UPMC South Side employed 712 people.

There were no demonstrations this week, but that seemed more a sign of resignation than acceptance.

"I'm depressed. South Side was our hospital, especially for our older people who really depend on this hospital," said Mary Jozefowicz, 45, a lifelong South Side resident who lives a block away from the hospital complex at 20th and Mary streets.

While UPMC Mercy can be seen from the front of South Side Hospital, she said it was a one-hour bus ride because the trip requires going Downtown, then transferring. The hospital system does plan to eventually offer a shuttle service but details on that have not been finalized.

"I go here all the time. It's the only hospital I know," said Mrs. Jozefowicz, adding that, "I've been to Mercy maybe twice" her entire life.

John Hassett, 41, a South Side resident for 38 years, agreed the elderly will be inconvenienced the most.

Ending patient admissions at South Side, combined with the loss of the local police station, has given the neighborhood a feeling of being abandoned, he said. "I'm just hoping there's enough people on staff" at the new operation to handle emergencies.

While stating that UPMC is committed to maintaining its relationship with South Side, spokesman Paul Wood said, "UPMC is uncertain at this time about the long-term plans for the SSH campus."

Mr. Wood said UPMC made improvements at Mercy to help provide for South Side residents and others, including additional staff, enhanced security and improved parking. Also, 95 percent of the 700 employees at South Side have moved to Mercy or one of the other UPMC facilities, he said.

There are no plans to sell the 209,000-square-foot complex but, he added, "The continuation of these services is dependent upon their level of utilization by the community."

In a financial analysis released this month by the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council, UPMC South Side showed losses in both operating margin and total margin of 7.19 percent in fiscal year 2008, making it one of the weakest performing hospitals in the region.

The original South Side Hospital located inside a warehouse on Mary Street, had 30 beds and quickly expanded to 70, according to the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation. An annex opened in 1909 and a nine-story East Wing in 1950. In 1982, the older buildings were demolished to make way for a $39 million facility, the one that exists today.


Steve Twedt can be reached at stwedt@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1963.


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