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West Penn Allegheny's future: Iffy at best

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Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012, 8:56 p.m.

West Penn Allegheny Health System is bleeding money and patients. Can a bleeding medical and support staff be far behind?

The bonds of the health system that is a conglomeration of Pittsburgh's old West Penn and Allegheny General hospitals — formed in the aftermath of the latter's near-spectacular collapse from the implosion of the cancerous Allegheny Health, Education and Research Foundation — are junk.

It's dangerously close to default, surviving only because of the beneficence of Highmark Inc. The insurance giant keeps throwing money lifelines to West Penn Allegheny but, for its efforts, receives only South Side salutes in return.

The hospital system is the very definition of “unsustainable.” It's being “consulted” to death. And its credibility is just about bled out.

West Penn Allegheny is headed to certain bankruptcy. Forced or voluntary is the only question.

Bondholders could force it into a messy, shotgun affair. Could liquidation be a possibility?

Or the health system could do the responsible thing and, as Highmark suggested, enter into Chapter 11 reorganizational bankruptcy. That would give West Penn Allegheny breathing space to restructure its debt and better position itself for the takeover that must come, whether it be by Highmark or another concern.

Will West Penn Allegheny do the right thing? Or will it scuttle itself on the rocks of inexplicable obduracy?

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