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A-K Medical Center remains only hospital truly serving the Valley

| Sunday, April 18, 2004

We read with great interest the Valley News Dispatch's March 30 editorial, "Duplicate Cancer Care Questioned." We concur wholeheartedly that duplicative services and technology within a given service area need to be avoided.

We also agree that this matter is, as the editorial stated, reminiscent of the situation between Allegheny Valley and Citizens General when "those two battled each other for Valley patients." This time, however, the battle is not between two local institutions, but rather between the Valley's Alle-Kiski Medical Center and the intrusion of UPMC into the market.

In stating we "now have the two Pittsburgh-area hospital systems competing in the Valley for specialized services, as well as patients to UPMC St. Margaret," the editorial implies a competition of equal objectives. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our intent at AKMC is to evolve and enhance that institution's capabilities, be they cancer-related or others, so that people in the Valley can have the finest and most comprehensive hospital-based services right where they live. That's not only our right, but our obligation to the patients we serve.

UPMC, on the other hand, has no hospital in the Valley. Despite its rhetoric, its facility on Burtner Road is to a great extent simply an office complex for its doctors who have no option but to refer their patients down Route 28 to St. Margaret's or other UPMC hospitals in Pittsburgh.

I cannot overemphasize the fact that the AKMC linear accelerator (at AVH) is a replacement for a piece of equipment that has served us since 1990. Our new accelerator will have IMRT capability (useful to treat about 20 percent of cancer patients), but this is an evolution of the equipment. We have not duplicated anything. Two accelerators are not needed to serve patients in this region. The AKMC Cancer Program is the only full-service cancer program in the Valley, incorporating inpatient, outpatient and hospice services.

And while we're on the topic of duplication, if, as UPMC espouses, St. Margaret's is so convenient and sought out by patients in the Valley, why would they opt to build a facility that provides the same kind of tests and lab work available in Aspinwall?

As a result of the saga between Allegheny Valley and Citizens, everyone did indeed come to the realization that the Valley's patient base is not large enough to support two providers.

To that issue, we have implemented an effective and efficient combination of in-patient and out-patient services at AVH in Harrison and the Citizens Ambulatory Care Center in New Kensington. In doing so, we have not only met the Valley's medical needs, but have also enhanced the stability and security of one of the Valley's major employers and economic forces.

This matter of "duplicative" cancer services is a symptom of a larger disease. Be it cancer, orthopaedics, the neurosciences or other areas, UPMC sees the Valley not as its home, but as an entry-point for patients into its facilities outside the area.

To conclude, the paper's editorial said that the situation in health care, especially in the Valley, "looks a lot like what we've seen in the review mirror."

We submit that UPMC's activities in the Valley will also provide a rearview mirror perspective Only this time, it will be patients and their families seeing Arnold, New Kensington and other communities in the rearview mirror as they travel to hospitals down Route 28 and beyond.

Cindy Schamp of Lower Burrell is CEO of the Alle-Kiski Valley Medical Center.

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