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Monsour resolution still in works

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Sen. Kim Ward has introduced Senate Bill 1114, which would amend the municipal housing code by increasing the punishment for violations and lowering the number of violations that can result in a jail sentence and fine.

Ward outlined her measure, which is in the Judiciary Committee:

• Allows the criminal offense to be charged when the number of code violations is two or more of the same subsection under the housing code rather than four under the current law.

• Includes commercial and industrial sites as well as residential.

• A second conviction would be a second-degree misdemeanor, and the person convicted would have to serve at least 10 days in jail and a mandatory minimum of six months' probation and pay a fine of no less than $1,000.

• A third conviction would be a first-degree misdemeanor carrying a 30-day jail sentence, one year's probation and a fine of $3,000.

“Blight continues to be a major problem in my district, and it seems that nothing can be done to hold the rightful owners of these dilapidated buildings accountable,” Ward said. “By lowering the number of code violations that trigger when this criminal offense can be charged, I hope to encourage property owners to stay on the right side of the law.”

Ward said her measure would also hold accountable the board of directors of an abandoned commercial or industrial property.

By Richard Gazarik
Friday, Nov. 15, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Medical records abandoned at the former Monsour Medical Center in Jeannette are covered with black mold and may never be reclaimed by former patients, state Sen. Kim Ward said.

Ward, R-Hempfield, met on Wednesday in Harrisburg with representatives of the departments of Community and Economic Development and Health and Revenue, as well as the Governor's Office, to determine if funding is available to demolish the hospital, which closed in 2006, or at least secure the building from trespassers, before winter weather accelerates its decay.

“We discussed, at length, the disposal of the records, which are black-mold-infested,” Ward said. “We're not even sure they can be legally considered medical records because of the mold and the fact they're scattered everywhere.”

City attorney Scott Avolio said he will seek court permission to destroy the files that are legally considered “municipal waste.”

“We think the records are beyond the point of recoverability by patients,” he said. “We'll seek court intervention to alleviate any concerns of patients.”

The interior of the facility has been pillaged of anything valuable — windows, doors, electrical conduit, copper tubing and the metallic connections of computers and other electronic devices. Furniture is scattered throughout the buildings, and tissue slides were left behind. The state Department of Environmental Protection removed unsecured medical waste in 2010 and again in 2012.

The confidential personnel files of physicians who worked and trained at Monsour, along with their Drug Enforcement Agency license numbers, also were left unprotected.

Ward said the state is trying to determine whether Community Development Block Grant funds could be used to tear down the cannister-shaped building that has been a Route 30 landmark since the 1970s.

“We're just in the beginning stages to determine what funding is available,” said agency spokeswoman Lyndsay Frank. “We're just trying to get the right people at the right table.”

Jason Rigone, director of the Westmoreland County Industrial Development Corp., said there could be a problem with using block grants for the project.

“A number of funding sources were discussed in Harrisburg,” Rigone said. “Some were put on the back burner. There are a lot of hurdles and challenges. That money has to be used for specific things.”

He said the county plans to acquire the land next year through a free-and-clear sale.

Rigone said the Tax Claims Bureau will notify lienholders who have judgments against the former hospital within the next 30 days. The bureau also will file a court petition seeking a rule to show cause, which would require the owners of the former hospital to appear in court to argue why it should not be demolished.

The county is considering the creation of a land bank that would allow a county or municipality to take over and redevelop vacant or tax-delinquent property, Rigone said.

Ward said she hopes money could be found to secure the open-access Monsour structure before snow and ice hasten the decay. Exposure to the elements has caused mold growth inside the building, concrete fractures, roof leaks and flooding on upper floors.

“I really hate the fact that taxpayers have to spend time and money to do something the owners refuse to do. That shows a ton of disrespect for the public,” Ward said.

Avolio said Jeannette may be able to secure the building by using a $65,000 state grant the city received years ago to build a recreation center that never materialized. City council plans to return the grant to the state but is awaiting instructions from the economic development department.

“Some variation of that money could be the funding source,” Avolio said.

If the state approves the use, the city will construct a barricade around the former hospital and seal doors and windows to block vandals.

“We need to protect innocent pedestrians,” Avolio said.

Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6292 or at

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