Braddock residents vent their anger
Charles Lytle, 79, of East Pittsburgh, who has been treated at UPMC Braddock, listens after asking a question concerning the hospital's planned closing during a community meeting last night.
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Emotions boiled over last night as UPMC officials were confronted by furious Mon Valley residents and local public officials over the medical giant's announcement on Friday that it would close UPMC Braddock.
About 100 people packed a stuffy room on the top floor of the facility's professional building, where the temperature rose with participants' anger, and at least another 30 watched the meeting from an overflow room elsewhere in the building.
UPMC Braddock President Cynthia Dorundo, employing specific figures along with graphs and charts, laid out the reasons behind the hospital's closure at the start of the meeting: that four in five Braddock residents were going elsewhere for care and that the hospital's average daily census dropped 20 percent since it opened in 2007.
She also pointed out other facilities within a 5-mile radius of the borough, including UPMC McKeesport and UPMC Shadyside.
The participants responded with jeers and vitriol. Some just wanted to unload their anger and their grief, and others tried to sway officials not to shutter the hospital, though UPMC and elected officials made it clear it was a done deal.
"You can dazzle us with statistics," said resident Jim Kidd, a retired counselor. "But the bottom line is that people are going to have trouble getting medical services."
"Not only are we losing a hospital, we have lost everything," said Jeanette Stanton, who has lived in Braddock her entire 80 years. She pointed out that the hospital's closure means the loss of the borough's only ATM and that the hospital cafeteria is currently the closest thing the community has to a sit-down restaurant. "What are we supposed to do?"
Members of the crowd were particularly agitated by UPMC's plans to build a facility in Monroeville, a project currently in the works, with people accusing UPMC of favoring that area's wealthier residents.
"You want the rich people out there, but the poor people in Braddock you don't care," said Gudrun Johnson.
UPMC officials said that they were responding to residents' needs there and that it was a financial decision.
Public officials also didn't shy away from criticizing UPMC, even as some faced criticism from residents who said they weren't doing enough for the community.
Councilwoman Tina Doose said she was astonished by UPMC's decision, and was angry the hospital applied for $3 million in state money in 2007 -- and was approved for it -- to renovate the building and its facade. UPMC has not yet received that money, and has pledged not to use it.
And like others, borough administrator Ella Jones was especially exasperated that the hospital did not give the community more advance warning so that they might have been better prepared for its departure. When she and other public officials learned of the closure on Friday, they were told the facility would be shuttered Jan. 31.
"How much thought was put into the community as a whole? The people, not the doctors, not the buildings," she said.
Local filmmaker Tony Buba agreed, and wondered if there was anything that could be done to extend the hospital's life until the community was prepared for it to leave.
"I don't see why it can't be open another two to three years, to ease the community out of it," Mr. Buba said. "Can [UPMC President] Jeffrey Romoff take a $2 million pay cut?"
Braddock Mayor John Fetterman, with little success, urged the participants to get beyond their anger and come up with creative solutions to the problems the community will face in the hospital's absence.
Both he and council President Jesse Brown said the meeting was a good opportunity for people to vent, but they hoped the next community meeting would produce more ideas and solutions.
"I think it was productive in the fact that the people had the opportunity to express themselves," Mr. Brown said.
Correction/Clarification: (Published Oct. 22, 2009) Four out of five Braddock residents go to hospitals other than UPMC Braddock for care. This story as originally published Oct. 21, 2009 gave an incorrect figure.
First Published October 21, 2009 12:08 am