Onorato unveils plans for hospital

Wednesday, February 3, 2010 


The next chapter in the UPMC Braddock saga involves Allegheny County plans for the now-closed hospital site and opponents' plans to stop University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's demolition of the hospital.

Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato wants to build a new four-story structure on the UPMC Braddock site that would have 90 housing units, a primary care clinic, a cafe and a Community College of Allegheny County center.

"Everyone wanted to keep the hospital open," Onorato stressed. "This is a real proposal if in fact there is not going to be a hospital on the site."

Braddock Mayor John Fetterman said he didn't like UPMC Braddock closing, but that an "outstanding solution" was worked out with what Onorato proposed and UPMC promises to maintain medical services.

"Everybody agrees that we wished UPMC had never instituted this closure," Fetterman said. "Barring that, I think this is a very comprehensive and good solution."

Onorato's plan includes UPMC commitments to pay for the demolition which could cost $5 million and to provide a $3 million match for a state $3 million Redevelopment Capital Assistance Program grant the county will seek.

"The county executive came to us with a very specific request and we agreed to that request which includes paying the entire cost for the demolition of the building," University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Vice President Paul Wood said Tuesday.

"It also includes a commitment to cover lost tax and other service costs for five years," Wood said.

Onorato said UPMC will make an annual payment in lieu of taxes of $60,000 to $90,000 to the borough allowing Braddock to avoid raising property taxes.

The county executive's plan presumed that UPMC wouldn't find anyone to take over the now-closed hospital and that the county hadn't, either.

"As of today, we have no one who has come forward and said they will take it," Onorato said.

"His proposal's a little bit premature," David Hughes of Save Our Community Hospitals said. "We have information that there are potential interested operators to operate it as some sort of health care facility and in fact one of those is touring the hospital (today)."

Hughes said it is a "large health provider from out of state" and not a local hospital organization.

The SOCH spokesman disputed UPMC's willingness to give the Braddock site to anyone willing to run a hospital there.

"We said from day one we would donate the building free," UPMC's Wood said. "We found no takers."

"They don't want a competitor using the facility," Hughes said. "Our county government should be a little slower in doing what UPMC wants and a little faster in doing what the community wants."

Onorato's plan presumed that no additional court action intervenes, such as a possible federal civil rights lawsuit sought by Braddock's borough council President Jesse L. Brown.

Brown reportedly had a conference call about the legal action he has requested from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Tuesday but later said, "I have no comment, I can't make a comment."

Brown has worked with the ad hoc SOCH, which claims a contact list with 300 names and has weekly organizing meetings at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Braddock.

With the backing of SOCH, Brown and Councilwoman Tina Doose reportedly will discuss what may come next at a news conference in Braddock today. Brown wants a delay in the demolition.

"I'm asking them to go three months and see what happens," Brown said. "I'm asking UPMC and the county to go three months and see if anyone can come in and utilize that building and then do what you have to do after that period."

Wood does not expect a demolition before June.

"It is going to take a couple months to do the prep work and to get the demo crews hired and in there," the UPMC spokesman said.

"There is no way UPMC is going to pay $2.5 million a year to maintain a building they do not want to own," Fetterman said.

Onorato said it would cost UPMC $240,000 a month to continue to maintain the closed hospital.