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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Condition Critical: Long road ahead in effort to save Braddock Hospital

Posted By on Thu, Nov 19, 2009 at 4:40 PM

Maybe it was the rain, but it was hard to be optimistic about today's rally to save Braddock Hospital. I wasn't alone feeling that way, either. As I walked over to it, I saw a number of residents sitting on porches, just a block or two from the facility. 

"Not going to the hospital rally?" I called out to one resident.

"They're going to do whatever they're going to do," he shouted back, waving his hand dismissively.

UPMC's decision to shutter Braddock is really just the latest in a decades-long story of neglect and betrayal. Braddock is already on life support, and until now, the hospital was its lifeline. An upstart activist group, Save Our Community Hospitals, notes that Braddock didn't just provide jobs and medical care -- its cafeteria is the town's only restaurant. It also boasts Braddock's only ATM. 

I counted about 200 people gathered in front of the hospital on Braddock Avenue. The turnout was bumped up slightly by some single-payers and a couple folks holding "US out of Middle East" signs.

As you might expect, a lot of the signs on display took liberties with  UPMC's acronym and marketing campaigns.

"We are here to 'continue the conversation,'" one sign jeered. 

The woman holding that sign, Annette Baldwin, was like a lot of Braddock dwellers. She'd given birth to a child in that hospital, and worked there for a time. And she, like a lot of her neighbors, was angry that UPMC was shutting down the hosptial, even as it gears up to build a new facility in Monroeville, a more affluent community a few miles away.  

"It's not health care anymore," Baldwin said. "It's wealth care."

A number of activists and politicians made similar points. Braddock councilwoman Tina Doose told the crowd that UPMC was spuring the "poor, predominantly African-American members of this community."  In fact, council president Jesse Brown told the crowd, he had been in touch with the US Justice Department, and was seeking a civil-rights action against UPMC.

Standing off to the side throughout the rally was Braddock mayor John Fetterman. Brown and Fetterman are at odds, and Fetterman didn't seem terribly optimistic about the outcome of any civil-rights complaint.

"You have to hope the closing doesn't happen," Fetterman said, "but if it does, you need to start doing disaster contingency planning. We're talking about a building that is larger than a Wal-Mart on five floors, and with poor parking." 

Fetterman was also dismissive about UPMC's offer to donate the hospital to the community. "That just allows them to wash their hands of us," he says -- and saddles the community with a giant vacant building that is, he says "a midnight plumber's dream." Fetterman would prefer to have UPMC pledge a sum of money to help rehab the building should a new occupant be found. Braddock already has plenty of vacant structures, thanks. 

So far, though, Fetterman says no offers of money have been forthcoming. 

Fetterman recalled that almost exactly a year ago, there was an effort to save the House of Hope, a UPMC-operated clinic for pregnant mothers struggling with subtance abuse. "I defended UPMC at the time," Fetterman said. "In retrospect, I feel pretty foolish."

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