Scare tactic: Zombies, others protest UPMC Braddock closing

Saturday, December 19, 2009


Zombies in movie makeup, pushing hospital IV stands and portraying what they said will be the results of corporate greed that caused UPMC to suck the life out of Braddock by closing the hospital there, marched on the nonprofit's Downtown corporate headquarters yesterday.

"I couldn't make it to a hospital in time because UPMC is closing Braddock," Emily Gorda, 29, of Braddock, one of the zombies in crusty gray makeup and a backless hospital gown, said explaining the symbolism during the lunchtime march from the Greyhound Bus Station to the U.S. Steel Tower on Grant Street. "Our community is on life support. UPMC should be ashamed."

When the dozen zombie marchers reached the front of the USX Tower their ranks swelled to about 40 protesters who held a mock UPMC board meeting on the sidewalk.

Filmmaker and Braddock resident Tony Buba, who worked on George Romero's "Night of the Living Dead" and "Dawn of the Dead" horror movies, said the demonstrators were trying to draw attention to not only the closing of Braddock Hospital, scheduled for Jan. 31, but also the need for health care coverage and the closing of community hospitals, especially in poor and minority communities.

"We wanted to do this street theater to energize people," said Mr. Buba, who wore a name tag bearing the name of UPMC board member G. Nicholas Beckwith III for the mock meeting. "The zombie link works because zombies have an insatiable appetite for human flesh an UPMC seems to have an insatiable appetite for chewing up our communities."

The demonstration was the latest in a long line of protests and demonstrations staged by Save Our Community Hospitals in the two months since UPMC, an $8 billion nonprofit, announced it was closing Braddock Hospital because it is underutilized and losing money. Paul Wood, a UPMC spokesman, said yesterday that despite a $60 million investment in the hospital, its user rate had continued to decline "below levels necessary to sustain it."

Eleven municipalities have passed resolutions calling on UPMC to keep Braddock Hospital open.

"The special significance and overriding issue of closing Braddock hospital is the health and safety of anyone living between Braddock to Chalfont, because they won't have an emergency room nearby," said Denise Edwards, who worked at U. S. Steel's Edgar Thomson Works in Braddock for a dozen years and is an executive board member of the United Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees.

David Hughes, executive director of Citizen Power, a community organizing group, said UPMC's planned closing of Braddock Hospital shows the board is "totally cold" toward the need for community health care.

"UPMC is focused on the bottom line and eliminating competition instead of delivering health care," said Mr. Hughes, who portrayed Jeffrey Romoff, UPMC chief executive officer, during the mock board meeting. "Otherwise the closing doesn't make sense. Braddock Hospital wasn't losing money until UPMC manipulated its expenses to show a loss.

"If the people of Braddock have to go to McKeesport or Monroeville for emergency health care, it's going to be very risky."

The mock UPMC board meeting ended shortly before 1 p.m. with zombies, demonstrators portraying board members and several lunchtime passersby chanting "Keep Braddock open, Keep Braddock open."

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