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Bellevue hospital may end inpatient, ER

West Penn Allegheny Health System is considering whether to eliminate inpatient services at Allegheny General Hospital's Suburban campus in Bellevue, a system spokeswoman said Tuesday.

The hospital network does not plan to close Suburban, but shutting down inpatient services would trigger the closure of its emergency department, spokeswoman Kelly Sorice said. Pennsylvania law requires that a hospital offer inpatient services if it operates an emergency department.

"One thing that's not on the table is leaving the community," Sorice said. "Our primary concern is not to abandon the community, but provide the services they use the most and they need the most. We're doing a lot of detailed analysis to see what could and could not work for the campus."

Health system administrators informed employees yesterday in an e-mail that they could decide Suburban's fate soon.

West Penn Allegheny is trying to emerge from a period of financial hardship. Although it posted a $7 million net profit for the first half of fiscal year 2010, its net losses total more than $80 million for the past two fiscal years.

Officials in recent weeks met with politicians and community groups in Bellevue, Avalon, Ben Avon, Kilbuck and other communities to talk about Suburban, Sorice said.

"I think the change is unavoidable, based on what's going on in health care," Bellevue Council President Kathy Coder said. "They have said they are staying and are still going to be part of the borough, so that makes me happy. From the meetings that I've been to, we could end up with someone that's more vibrant."

Sorice said one unidentified group suggested the hospital consider opening an outpatient gynecologic clinic. The clinic is under consideration.

Bellevue Mayor George Doscher said the situation is different from what happened in Braddock, where University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in January closed its hospital.

"It's apples and oranges," he said. "People seem to understand that having something is better than nothing."

The use of Suburban's inpatient services declined in recent years, with 30 of 59 licensed beds filled on an average day, Sorice said. Outpatient services, including laboratory and emergency room, constitute about 90 percent of its total usage. Outpatient surgeries such as orthopedic procedures represent another 6 percent.

If the emergency department closed, West Penn Allegheny could open an urgent care center to treat minor emergencies. Suburban's emergency department handles about 20,000 visits a year.

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