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Visitors get peek of UPMC East

| Saturday, June 16, 2012, 7:57 p.m.
Jasmine Goldband
UPMC East CT Technologist Deborah Mantick (left) talks to visitors Kay Willson of Plum and Lynn Silvis of Monroeville about the CT scanner room in the imaging department during an open house tour of the new UPMC East hospital in Monroeville. Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review

Patient room doors at the new UPMC East turn from see-through to opaque with a flip of a switch.

Every unit has its own lab testing -- no more hour-long waits for staff from another department. Glossy portraits and high-definition video screens line the sunny hallways.

It was a lot more than Kathryn Skelley and many other visitors had expected.

"I just thought it was going to be a regular hospital. But it's so bright and welcoming," said Skelley of Wilkins, one of more than 2,500 people to tour the new hospital during its open house on Saturday. "I was just really impressed."

The healthcare system has placed a $250 million bet on a community hospital at a tough time for community hospitals nationwide and in a town where it will have to compete with a hospital twice its size just a mile away. The 156-bed hospital opens July 2.

To overcome those issues, UPMC invested in state-of-the-art technology and is relying on the affection patients have for its staff, hospital President Mark Sevco said. About 55 percent of its staff will be transfers from other UPMC facilities; the system is banking on patients being drawn by that familiarity to stay local and lower congestion at the system's hospitals in Oakland and Shadyside, he added.

Several visitors yesterday said they would.

"The people I've met here were terrific, the nursing staff here," said Stephanie Greyshock of Plum. "And it's a more upbeat atmosphere than going into Oakland."

Greyshock is a loyal UPMC customer because they've kept her husband alive for 10 years, about twice as long as the typical prognosis for someone with congestive heart failure, she said. While she doesn't think UPMC East has the ability to treat that, for other ailments or emergency room visits, she said she would definitely choose the trip to Monroeville rather than fight for parking in Oakland.

Several others agreed, and said they would be drawn in if UPMC East follows through on its promise for 45-minute shorter waits in the emergency room. There was resounding approval for the photos all around the building, too. There are landscapes of colorful trees, meadows and waterfalls.

"It looked so enormous and uninviting from the highway," said Kathleen Gillen, 69, a realtor who is moving to Plum. "But when you get inside, it's not that way at all. It's warm and inviting and if you're sick it's very cheerful."

Visitors downplayed concerns that have lingered about UPMC's decision to build so close to West Penn Allegheny Health System's Forbes Regional Hospital. Opened in 1978 Forbes is undergoing a $20 million renovation and pursuing a Level II trauma center designation so it can treat severely injured people rather than transfer them to hospitals in Pittsburgh. Health insurer Highmark Inc. is paying for the work to compete with UPMC.

"Competition is always good," Skelley said, adding that UPMC East looks much more modern. "It's better to have two hospitals than to have one with a monopoly."

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