Suburban General agrees to ER closing

Campus will be urgent-care facility

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The Suburban General Hospital Advisory Board, after filing a lawsuit last week, on Thursday agreed to what it had been fighting all along: to allow the hospital's emergency room and inpatient facility to close.

The agreement with the West Penn Allegheny Health System will guarantee that the campus in Bellevue will keep an urgent-care facility -- slated to open Saturday -- operating for at least three years, and possibly indefinitely if it remains economically feasible.

The two sides reached agreement late in the afternoon after hours of discussion. Allegheny County Judge Ronald W. Folino is expected to issue an order outlining a number of conditions in the deal today.

"I think the important thing is we've come to an agreement that's in the best interest of the community," said Tom Jackson, an attorney representing the Suburban advisory board.

The board filed a lawsuit against the health system last Friday, arguing that a 1994 affiliation agreement guaranteed that the facility would remain an acute-care hospital.

In May, the health system announced that it would close Suburban's emergency room and inpatient admissions. However, it also noted that LifeCare Hospitals, which already operates 41 beds in the hospital, plans to expand its services, possibly adding 50 skilled nursing or transitional care beds.

If that expansion falls through, Mr. Jackson said, the proposed agreement will allow the advisory board to reopen its lawsuit, challenging the closure.

Dawn Gideon, executive vice president with West Penn Allegheny Health System, said the settlement was in the best interests of the community, employees and the patients at the facility, now called AGH Suburban Campus.

The closure, she said, was because of low inpatient utilization.

"It's been a steady decline since the mid-'90s," Ms. Gideon said. "It made sense to consolidate these patients into Allegheny General."

Suburban had 59 inpatient beds and had a total of about 2,500 admissions in 2009.

At any given time, said Kelly Sorice, a spokeswoman for West Penn Allegheny, about 30 of those beds were occupied, giving it about a 50 percent capacity.

In 2009, the hospital had 20,000 emergency room visits. About 86 percent of those, Ms. Sorice said, could be seen in the new urgent-care facility,

Mr. Jackson said West Penn Allegheny sent notices to some 344 employees at Suburban that they might lose their jobs when the closure was announced in May. But Ms. Gideon said most employees would be able to move to other positions in the system, and that it was likely that fewer than 50 people would become unemployed.

But the loss of the hospital will affect the community, Mr. Jackson said.

"We know the local community would rather go there than Allegheny General," he said.


Paula Reed Ward: pward@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2620.


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