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UPMC East opening met with protests

| Tuesday, July 3, 2012, 7:35 a.m.
A group of about 50 protesters, mostly members of Save Our Community Hospitals, were outside UPMC East in Monroeville Monday, the first day of operations at the new facility.

Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News
A group of about 50 protesters, mostly members of Save Our Community Hospitals, were outside UPMC East in Monroeville Monday, the first day of operations at the new facility. Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News

Despite the blistering heat, about 50 people protested outside UPMC East in Monroeville Monday, the first day of operations at the $250 million hospital.

"For what it cost to build this hospital, that money would have kept (UPMC) Braddock open for 40 years," Tony Buba, spokesperson of Save Our Community Hospitals, said. "Why did they have to build on this piece of valuable land? They are nonprofit and this land could have been developed for profit use, and (West Penn Allegheny's Forbes Regional) is just down the road."

UPMC spokesperson Susan Manko said, "We respect the viewpoints of the group. We at UPMC East are excited to be open today to begin providing UPMC's world-class inpatient care to meet the growing needs of the residents of the eastern suburbs. Things are going very well and we're busy caring for patients."

Although the group cut its protest short by about 45 minutes because of the weather, Buba said his group made its point.

"We got the hospital's attention to the issue, which is health care for all," he said. "Although it was upheld by the Supreme Court, Obama's plan doesn't provide what is needed, which is universal health care. Medicare works perfectly in other countries and it would work here, too. It should begin at birth so everyone is covered."

Since the announcement was made in October 2009 that UPMC Braddock was closing, Buba has been active in showing opposition to that decision.

"Braddock was a true community hospital, but it's all about nonprofit corporate greed," Buba said. "It's easy to blame (UPMC president and CEO Jeffrey A. Romoff), but isn't there a board that's accountable for what's done?"

He questioned how much money a nonprofit organization is allowed to make, noting contributions to Pittsburgh-based organizations.

"That's nice," he said, "but what does that do for the people in the Mon Valley?"

Buba said he is seeing some fruit from his efforts to draw attention to the health care needs of the people in Braddock. He said a free clinic run by the Muslim community has opened and Highmark is working to open an express medical site there.

"You have to keep out there and keep fighting or no one will remember," he said.

Braddock resident Pat Morgan has joined the fight, saying, "Somebody has to remember Braddock."

She said residents had a community hospital for 100 years, one she said was built by money from the steelworkers and Divine Providence Sisters.

"When UPMC came in they put millions of dollars into upgrading the hospital, all the while planning to build (UPMC East)," she said.

As one of the country's estimated 50 million uninsured people, Morgan said she was protesting to "remember the poor and uninsured."

"Health care should be a right for everyone," she said. "I have health issues and I'm afraid I'll lose everything, and people should not have to lose everything because they have to pay their health bills. I don't go to the doctor like I should because I can't afford to."

Donald Cooper of One Pittsburgh, and a Braddock resident, said he understands why Braddock was closed and the Monroeville facility built.

"This is in a better neighborhood," he acknowledged, "but what about the everyday people who don't have much or can't get to this hospital? (UPMC) built a senior place across the street from the hospital and spent $5 million to renovate the hospital, then they shut it down. They have bought every hospital I go to, even Mercy. People still care there (Mercy), but how long will that last?

"They claim they are a good neighbor hospital, but everything they do doesn't show that."

Only recently has Cooper been vocal about the Braddock closure.

"I used to not say anything," he said, "but since last summer I've been trying to support them because nonprofits are not paying fair taxes."

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