Group bashes mock UPMC building

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Before David Hughes could start demolishing UPMC's Downtown offices Friday, he realized it wasn't facing the right direction for the cameras. So he grabbed it by the sides and turned it around.

The three-dimensional model of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's headquarters, made of foam board and computer paper, then sat at the same angle as the building behind it, the U.S. Steel Tower, where UPMC administrators keep offices. Hughes and other protesters from Braddock made the model to tear it down. They held mallets above their heads, hungry for a symbolic victory over the nonprofit that is razing a hospital in their town.

"Take a swing for health care," chanted Tony Buba, chair of the group Save Our Community Hospitals, which organized the 30-minute noon protest.

About 20 people held protest signs and took swings, denting, punching holes and -- after about a minute -- demolishing the 5-foot-tall model.

Nearly a year after protests by scores of people in Braddock failed to stop UPMC from closing its 104-year-old hospital, this small group conducts sporadic protests to pan the health care giant and ask its officials to do more for the poor former mill town.

"While we may have lost the battle to save this hospital building ... people have learned this issue is much bigger than Braddock hospital," Hughes said.

UPMC spokesman Paul Wood declined to comment.

Hughes is asking UPMC to cover ambulance costs for anyone from Braddock who lacks insurance, now that the closest hospital is about 15 minutes away in McKeesport or Shadyside. Group protesters are advocating for single-payer health care, noting the $8 billion UPMC is spending $16 million to rebrand itself in a marketing campaign.

Hospital officials said they closed the Braddock hospital because it lost more than $4 million a year and declining admissions usually left it more than half empty. UPMC plans to spend $11 million for extended hours at a Braddock clinic and provide door-to-door rides for some non-emergency care under a federal civil rights settlement.