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Judge's decision on UPMC Braddock injunction due Friday

| Thursday, Jan. 28, 2010

The monthslong fight over the closing of UPMC Braddock could come down to a Friday morning in court, two days before the hospital is set to close.

Administrative Judge Gene Strassburger is expected to decide whether the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center must keep the hospital open. County Councilman Charles McCullough filed a lawsuit against the hospital system, seeking an injunction, contending that UPMC bond agreements with Allegheny County and BNY Mellon Corp. require it to keep the hospital open.

Although the 123-bed hospital can provide limited emergency care, it is effectively empty, UPMC lawyers told Strassburger at a hearing Wednesday. The hospital has no patients, and most of the medical staff has been transferred elsewhere. UPMC spent three months winding down its operations.

"There's an allegation that Braddock hospital exists," UPMC lawyer Jack McGinley said. "But there's a shell of a building and no licensed medical staff left."

UPMC Braddock stopped accepting patients Jan. 15, and the state is scheduled to revoke its license Sunday, UPMC spokesman Paul Wood said. All but a quarter of the 600 employees secured transfers to other UPMC jobs. UPMC officials announced the closing in October, saying the hospital was underused, especially by residents of surrounding towns.

McCullough, the Republican at-large councilman and an Upper St. Clair lawyer, volunteered to help Braddock residents by filing two lawsuits against UPMC. Lawyers for UPMC argued that McCullough has no legal right to bring the lawsuit.

Opponents claim UPMC kept patient numbers low at Braddock by transferring them to other hospitals. About 25,000 people annually used the hospital's emergency room, but patients could go to other nearby hospitals and clinics, some owned by UPMC, lawyers said.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services officials have spoken with borough officials, said attorney M. Lawrence Shields III, who represents Braddock Council President Jesse Brown.

Brown filed a federal civil rights complaint about UPMC's decision to close the hospital, which served a poor region, while simultaneously building a hospital in Monroeville, where West Penn Allegheny Health System has one. Shields asked Strassburger to be included as a plaintiff in McCullough's case.

Braddock residents might have more standing than he does, said Strassburger, who asked for legal briefs from UPMC and BNY Mellon, which McCullough included as a defendant, before ruling.

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