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Bellevue to have urgent care site

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By Bobby Kerlik
Friday, Aug. 13, 2010
 

The emergency room and in-patient facilities at Allegheny General Hospital's Suburban Campus will close today as scheduled under the terms of an agreement reached Thursday to settle a lawsuit.

The hospital's advisory board sued last week, asking a judge to halt the closure. It claimed closing the Bellevue hospital formerly known as Suburban General would violate a 1994 affiliation agreement.

Under the terms of yesterday's deal, West Penn Allegheny Health System must operate an urgent-care facility at the hospital for at least three years. The deal includes a promise to expand services provided by LifeCare, a company that operates 41 long-term care beds in the hospital.

Lawyers on both sides met behind closed doors for most of yesterday.

"I'm not sure it was as simple as they wanted to keep the emergency room open. There was a long series of negotiations (prior to the lawsuit) and not all were premised on the hospital as an acute-care facility," said Gary Hunt, attorney for the advisory board. "The advisory board got the assurances it needed that things will happen, and the community will get the extended urgent care."

Dawn Gideon, executive vice president for West Penn Allegheny, said the agreement allows the community, patients and employees to not be held in limbo by litigation.

"It was not in the best interests of anyone to drag it out further," Gideon said.

If it meets undisclosed financial requirements, the urgent care facility, which is slated to open Saturday, will stay open at least five years, said Tom Jackson, a retired attorney from Ben Avon who wrote the 1994 affiliation agreement and was part of the advisory board.

"We felt it was better to take the improvements than risk litigation. If they don't go through with it, then the agreement is off," Jackson said.

Gideon said West Penn Allegheny would like to keep the urgent-care center open indefinitely if it's economically feasible. She said economics played a role in the decision to close parts of Suburban.

"It made sense to consolidate with Allegheny General," she said.

Suburban General affiliated with West Penn in 1994. In 2005, the hospital merged with Allegheny General and became part of the West Penn Allegheny Health System.

Under West Penn Allegheny's reorganization plan, the 106-year-old facility will offer outpatient services, including radiology, laboratory, dialysis and imaging. The urgent-care center will replace the emergency department and treat minor emergencies.

Suburban's emergency room treated approximately 20,000 people last year, but 85 percent could have been treated in the urgent care facility, said Kelly Sorice, vice president of communications at West Penn Allegheny.

In-patient volume declined, with 2,500 patients admitted last year. Of the 59 beds available, about 30 were filled on average, Sorice said.

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