Restructuring will close UPMC South Side, expand Mercy

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UPMC South Side will shut down within five years as it combines with UPMC Mercy, and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center spends $75 million to $90 million on an expansion of Mercy's Uptown campus.

The descendant of a hospital established in the late 19th century, UPMC South Side employs 712 people and maintains 149 beds. It will begin the process of moving people and services to Mercy next summer.

As for the fate of the 209,000-square-foot hospital complex at 20th and Mary streets, "we anticipate the facility will be redeveloped," UPMC spokesman Paul Wood said.

UPMC South Side and UPMC Mercy are less than 2 miles apart. Employees who do not want to move will "be offered the opportunity to explore options elsewhere in UPMC," said UPMC Executive Vice President Elizabeth Concordia in an e-mail to employees yesterday. "Our intent is to minimize any impact on our patients, employees and physicians."

Many UPMC South Side physicians, she said, already practice at Mercy or other UPMC hospitals.

For Dr. Freddie Fu, who relocated his orthopedic sports medicine surgical staff to UPMC South Side in December 2002, this will be his fourth move in 35 years. When he arrived at UPMC South Side, the nonprofit health care system touted the facility's proximity to the nearby UPMC Sports Performance Complex, which will remain in that neighborhood.

Dr. Fu said his team is "excited" about the move and the expansion at Mercy, which is "only five minutes away."

"I think it's stressful" for physicians to consider any move, he said, but "in the long run it will be better for the system."

Across town at Mercy, the renovations will include the creation of a rehabilitation "center of excellence" -- the future home for UPMC South Side's Institute for Rehabilitation and Research -- as well an expansion of UPMC Mercy's emergency department, operating rooms, intensive care unit and ambulatory capacity and enhancements in ear, nose and throat services.

The consolidation is scheduled to begin in July 2009, when rehabilitation beds and other inpatient services at UPMC South Side will be moved to UPMC Mercy or other UPMC hospitals. Ambulatory services, an urgent care center, physicians' offices, imaging and ambulatory surgery will not move for at least three to five years.

UPMC spokeswoman Susan Manko said the South Side hospital is not merging with Mercy for financial reasons. In fact, UPMC South Side recorded a 2.93 percent operating profit margin in fiscal 2007, according to a report out yesterday from the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council. The 535-bed UPMC Mercy, which UPMC acquired Jan. 1 from the Sisters of Mercy, had a operating margin of 5.97 percent.

"We believe that consolidating these services is the right thing to do for our patients in order to provide the best possible care," Ms. Concordia said in her e-mail, "and it allows us to integrate duplicative services."

The original South Side Hospital began in 1892, according to a document from the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation. UPMC yesterday cited 1893 as the founding year, although it has listed 1889 in prior press releases. The hospital, located inside a warehouse on Mary Street, had 30 beds and quickly expanded to 70, according to the History and 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.

UPMC purchased the South Side Hospital in 1996 as it began expanding beyond Oakland.

South Side community advocate Rick Belloli said yesterday that "it's awfully early to assess what the local reaction is" to the move. Mr. Belloli, executive director of the South Side Local Development Co., called the announcement " a bit of a surprise," given the relocation of the UPMC Institute of Rehabilitation and Research to UPMC South Side earlier this decade.

He called UPMC a "great corporate partner" and supporter of neighborhood activities. Asked how the absence of a hospital might affect local services or merchants, Mr. Belloli said, "Those are the things we are just now starting to get our arms around, thinking through the list of the issues that we want to talk to the folks at UPMC about."


Dan Fitzpatrick can be reached at dfitzpatrick@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1752.


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