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West Penn Hospital upgrades set

| Friday, Nov. 22, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
President and CEO of West Penn Hospital Duke Rupert speaks at town hall meeting at the Teamsters Temple in Lawrenceville on Thursday evening, November 21, 2013.

Highmark Inc. has spent $35 million in the last two years to rejuvenate West Penn Hospital in Bloomfield, and more work is planned.

Duke Rupert, the hospital's CEO, said additional space will be made to accommodate the growing number of women who are coming to the hospital to give birth, as well as rebuilding the hospital's neonatal intensive care unit and reconfiguring Mellon Pavilion, which houses doctor offices and an outpatient surgery center.

“We're going to continue along the process,” Rupert told an audience of about 100 people at the Teamsters Temple in Lawrenceville on Thursday. “We have many things to do.”

The town hall meeting was organized by state Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Highland Park, who said he wants to make sure people were aware of the significant upgrades to the medical center.

“A lot of the folks in the community, they don't have a sense of the investment there,” Ferlo said.

Highmark, the state's largest health insurer, acquired the hospital in April when it purchased the West Penn Allegheny Health System. In 2010, officials with West Penn Allegheny had closed the emergency department at the Bloomfield hospital, signaling that it would eventually close.

But in 2011 Highmark announced that it was investing to restart emergency services and bring other medical services that had been closed and transferred to Allegheny General Hospital in the North Side.

In 2012, an updated and renovated emergency department opened, followed by a new 18-bed intensive care unit and the return of cardiac care services this year.

Rupert said the West Penn Hospital Foundation recently committed $9.5 million to double the number of recovery rooms for women who have given birth, along with the rebuilding of the neonatal intensive care unit and work at Mellon Pavilion.

Dan Onorato, former Allegheny County executive and Highmark's chief of external affairs, told the crowd that he had been hearing rumors in Harrisburg that the insurer wasn't committed to its hospital system, which is in competition with the much larger UPMC system of hospitals and doctors.

“We're not closing it,” Onorato said before introducing Rupert. “When you see (Rupert's) presentation, you'll see how ridiculous that rumor is.”

Alex Nixon is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7928 or anixon@tribweb.com.

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