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UPMC solicits some unlikely potential donors

| Sunday, Oct. 9, 2011

This maneuver we can label exceedingly tacky.

UPMC, the technically nonprofit medical conglomerate known almost as much for its ubiquitous regional presence as for its unrelenting lust for money, needs your assistance.

UPMC is having difficulty getting by on the $801 million it earned last fiscal year. Understandable, since that amount is only $171 million more than the $630 million it earned the year before.

So UPMC is pleading with the people it treats to help make its bottom line healthier by giving generously to the cause.

"Your gift will play a vital role in defining our community health, education and research programs," chief development officer Clyde Jones said last week in a letter sent to potential suckers.

Sorry, that was a poor choice of words. I meant to say the letter was sent to those who undoubtedly share UPMC's grave concern that it might have to tap its $3.6 billion investment portfolio to make ends meet.

My bad.

Although the solicitation is audacious, it isn't surprising. UPMC annually attempts this tactic no matter how many hundreds of millions of dollars it rakes in.

What is startling is that this year's donation request went to an unknown number of Highmark insurance subscribers. Didn't think UPMC would dare solicit those likely to lose affordable access to the medical behemoth's physicians and facilities because Highmark and UPMC are divorcing.

UPMC felt betrayed after Highmark announced it was buying the competing West Penn Allegheny Health System. So UPMC halted negotiations on a contract with Highmark to provide lower in-network rates for the insurer's subscribers.

The impending breakup doesn't provide much motivation for Highmark-affiliated folks to contribute to UPMC. They're like tenants served with an eviction notice and then asked by the landlord to pay next month's rent regardless, to cover roof repairs at the apartment.

Realizing the inherent awkwardness of its request, UPMC officials are providing what they evidently believe is an irresistible incentive to pony up. Included in the fundraising communique was (drumroll, please) a sheet of personalized address labels.

Don't go telling UPMC it shouldn't have. The labels are "our gift to you," Jones wrote. "Your thoughtful donations mean so much to us."

UPMC probably hopes its generous "gift" inspires conversations such as this:

Amy: "Art, guess what• UPMC just sent us 42 address labels. That certainly takes some of the sting out of soon being unable to continue treatment for your tumor at UPMC's Hillman Cancer Center."

Art: "Those labels will come in handy for all the correspondence I intend to send from the hospice. Let's give UPMC some money to express our gratitude. Honey, can you bring me my checkbook and morphine drip?"

Using cheap address stickers as a lure, UPMC hopes to reap a windfall from a demographic with whom it is severing ties. The odds of Highmark subscribers responding favorably to this exceedingly tacky maneuver?

Label that highly unlikely.

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