By admin on November 10, 2009
October 17, 2009 12:00 am
By Steve Twedt/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Even a new $8 million facade couldn’t mask the troubles that will close UPMC Braddock hospital on Jan. 31.
The numbers are stark: UPMC Braddock’s operating margin was minus 7.11 percent in 2007-08, according to a June financial analysis from the independent Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council.
UPMC spokesman Paul Wood said the Holland Avenue facility lost $9.5 million in the fiscal year ending June 30, following a $4.2 million loss the year before.
But those numbers were symptoms of the real issue: Four out of five Braddock residents were choosing other hospitals when they sought treatment, Mr. Wood said, adding that patient admissions had dropped 21 percent since 2004 and only about half the hospital’s 123 licensed beds might be filled on any given day.
When UPMC officials decided to close Braddock, “the key driver was the continuing declining utilization of the facility by the community,” Mr. Wood said.
One exception was UPMC Braddock’s comprehensive behavioral health/drug and alcohol detox and rehabilitation program.
“Braddock was one of the few remaining parts of the community safety net for behavioral care and that safety net just got a lot smaller,” said Michael Flaherty, executive director of the Pittsburgh-based Institute for Research, Education and Training in Addictions. “They took care of the really toughest cases.”
Mr. Wood said the drug and alcohol program will continue, though it has not been decided where.
“I really want to see if they open up with the same service level,” said Dr. Flaherty, who ran the drug and alcohol program at the former St. Francis Medical Center and knows the challenges programs of the sort face. Most of the patients are uninsured, and many also have mental health problems. Reimbursement rates do not match those for general medical surgical patients. “The economics of it are just becoming harder and harder.”
But Dr. Flaherty said trying to relocate a drug and alcohol program can prompt resistance from potential neighbors.
“It will be interesting to see what the jail does after [the hospital] closes. I think the warden just got a larger job,” he said.
According to the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council, annual net patient revenue at UPMC Braddock has ranged from $51 million to $58 million from 2004-05 through 2007-08 — the least of any UPMC hospital — while total operating expenses rose from $56 to $63 million.
And that was before the national economy tanked.
Two other UPMC facilities also recorded negative operating margins in the PHC4 report: UPMC South Side was negative 7.19 percent and UPMC McKeesport was negative 3.50 percent.
Earlier this year, UPMC converted the South Side hospital into an outpatient care center. Those requiring an overnight stay are now sent to UPMC Mercy.
Mr. Wood said UPMC has no plans to close any other UPMC facility.
“McKeesport has a bit of a larger service area. The community is utilizing the hospital as a much greater rate [than in Braddock] and the financials are improving,” he said.
The converted South Side hospital, he added, “seems to be going very well. So far, it’s well received and utilized so we’ll maintain it.”
UPMC purchased the Braddock Medical Center in 1996 and has invested about $30 million in the 277,000-square-foot facility since then.
The shutdown will affect 652 employees, but Mr. Wood said most will be offered jobs at other UPMC facilities.
One sign of UPMC Braddock’s deepening financial troubles surfaced a year ago, when UPMC Braddock announced it was closing the House of Hope program for chemically dependent, homeless women who were either pregnant or had newborns. The program was located in a house across the street from the hospital.
After public outcry, UPMC officials reversed that decision, although the program is now run by Western Psychiatric and Clinic.
Mr. Wood said UPMC will continue to operate community-based outpatient programs, such as Steps to a Healthy Community, the Health for Life summer camp, the UPMC Braddock Dental Center, as well as other youth mentoring and senior housing programs.
He also said UPMC plans to reach out to the 60 or so nearby physician practices “to expand primary care for local residents.”
Plans for the building, meanwhile, “are up in the air,” Mr. Wood said.
“We’re going to work with community leaders to work on an appropriate disposition or development of the building and the land around the building. Pretty much anything is on the table, but it’s really going to be up to the community how they want to use that program,” he said
Steve Twedt can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1963.
First Published October 17, 2009 12:00 am
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