New UPMC East provides sneak peek
By Luis Fábregas and Alex Nixon
Published: Thursday, May 31, 2012, 3:30 p.m.
No linoleum in the hallways, no plastic chairs in the lobby, no mystery meat on the menu.
At a time when hospitals are trying to outdo each other to attract patients, the glass-clad UPMC East in Monroeville boasts terrazzo flooring made with marble chips, concierges to help visitors and "room service" food ordering.
UPMC officials on Thursday provided a preview of the $250 million facility that's scheduled to open July 2 about a mile away along Mosside Boulevard from rival West Penn Allegheny Health System's Forbes Regional Hospital.
While they emphasized high-end amenities, private rooms and the latest medical technology, UPMC officials said they did not overspend to build the energy-efficient hospital.
"It's not opulent at all," said Joseph Badalich, a project director for UPMC who oversaw the four-year construction project. "We kept it as small as we could to not have wasted spending."
As UPMC puts the finishing touches on the 156-bed UPMC East, West Penn Allegheny is working to improve the 350-bed Forbes, which opened in 1978. Forbes is undergoing a $20 million renovation and is pursuing designation as a Level II Trauma Center, which would enable it to treat severely injured people rather than transfer them to hospitals in Pittsburgh.
Health insurer Highmark Inc. is paying for the work at Forbes while awaiting approval to buy West Penn Allegheny for $475 million. It plans to set up an integrated medical services network that can compete with UPMC, the region's dominant health system.
"At the end of the day, we are confident that the people of Monroeville and its neighboring communities will continue to rely on Forbes Regional Hospital as the close-to-home provider of choice for a much more comprehensive scope of advanced health care services," West Penn Allegheny spokesman Dan Laurent said.
UPMC's decision to build in Monroeville prompted state Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Highland Park, to introduce legislation to reinstate a program requiring health systems to justify spending on new hospitals and medical equipment. Pennsylvania is one of 14 states that do not regulate hospital construction and hospital equipment purchases.
"Everybody can say, 'Oh look, we have this great new hospital in Monroeville,' but it's a tremendous cost that comes with that expenditure," said Ferlo, who has publicly supported the survival of money-losing West Penn Allegheny. "I don't know that it's the best utilization of the public dollar. I would prefer to have a health care system that meets people's needs and prioritizes expenditures."
The Tribune-Review last year published "Code Green: Bleeding Dollars," a yearlong series of stories that looked at some of the key factors that contribute to the soaring cost of health care, including a nationwide hospital building boom. Pennsylvania is among the top 10 in borrowing for hospital construction in the past four years, the newspaper's data analysis found, and hospitals nationwide borrowed $144 billion from 2009 until last November for buildings, equipment and financing. Experts say that contributes mightily to the soaring national health care bill.
Despite its proximity to Forbes, UPMC East President Mark Sevco said the hospital is intended to serve people from the eastern suburbs who travel to UPMC facilities in Pittsburgh. He said up to 100 patients from the Monroeville area are admitted every day to UPMC Presbyterian and Shadyside hospitals, and many of those patients are expected to go to UPMC East instead once it opens.
"It will be a lower-cost product when you compare it to Presby," Sevco said. "We're very focused on keeping our costs contained."
Sevco and Badalich downplayed the rivalry with West Penn Allegheny and said competition could compel the facilities to work harder and improve care. Badalich said his wife, a certified registered nurse anesthetist, has worked at Forbes for 25 years.
"Them being there and us being here will hopefully lead to better clinical results," he said.
The UPMC facility features seven operating rooms, 16 intensive care beds and 22 emergency department bays.
During a two-hour tour of the facility, several UPMC workers made reference to hotel-like amenities in the 156 private rooms, such as 42-inch televisions, large windows and built-in blow-dryers and tiled showers in the bathrooms, which one worker said are "bigger than the one in my house."
Badalich pointed out that the patient rooms cover 217 square feet, below the industry standard of about 300 square feet.
The rooms are fitted with SmartRoom technology, which a UPMC-owned, for-profit enterprise developed with partial funding from computer giant IBM. A touch-screen unit in the room allows nurses and physicians to get real-time information such as lab results on patients. Patients can check their email or order extra blankets. They can order food from a menu rather than receive traditional trays at designated times.
Sevco said allowing patients to order food from a menu on their schedules saves money on uneaten food.
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