Hope no more: Troubled mothers lose a promising program

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The name said it all: House of Hope.

The UPMC Braddock program, designed to help addicted, homeless women who are pregnant or new mothers, is a residence that gave hope to women who otherwise had a hard time finding cause for any.

It could accommodate only five clients at a time for 90-day stays, and the small scale was an additional support along with drug counseling, life skills and parenting classes. The women's babies could live with them, and other children were allowed to come for overnight visits.

UPMC plans to close the program Jan. 2 in a cost-cutting move it says was necessary "so it can continue its mission to deliver the highest-quality, most patient-focused health care available in the region."

Although it won't say how much it cost to run House of Hope, it's hard to fathom that shutting it down is going to save enough money to make a difference to the enormous medical system. This is, after all, the UPMC that just last week announced plans to establish 25 cancer centers in Europe, the Middle East and Asia in the coming decade.

But House of Hope made a huge difference to the women it served. Unlike comparable programs, it would accept those who still were taking methadone to battle their addictions. The ultimate goal in transforming addicts to healthy mothers was to reduce infant mortality. Although the black infant mortality rate in the region is no longer at the criminally high rate of 28.7 per 1,000 live births that existed in 1989, a disparity still exists between the rates for black and white babies, so the job is not done.

It would be a mistake to suggest that in closing the House of Hope that UPMC is abandoning Braddock. The hospital, of course, still serves that struggling community and will continue to offer services including dental care and a youth summer camp. The health system also has been a generous corporate citizen in other ways including the Pittsburgh Promise.

But UPMC has not made a strong case to back up its decision to abandon this unique program for women in recovery.



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