West Penn Hospital cutting 1,500; emergency room closing

When she heard that West Penn Hospital in Bloomfield would be laying off personnel and moving many in-patient services to Allegheny General, retiree Paulette Hicks was saddened about the employees, but worried about care options.

All of my doctors are at West Penn,” she said. “What am I supposed to do now, go all the way to the North Side?”

HEALTH CARE EMERGENCY—West Penn Allegheny Health Services to layoff 1,500 and close the ER at West Penn Hospital.

Hicks is not alone. Those who attended a June 30 community meeting on the closure learned only that the health systems would do what it could to help furloughed employees find work—but little for the community.

“If we don’t do it, we will not survive” said WPAHS board Chairman David McClenahan. “And 13,000 jobs, they will also be gone.”

West Penn Allegheny Health Services announced the 1,500 cuts June 29. Representatives said West Penn Hospital will continue to support the Women’s and Infants’ Center, bariatric surgery program, the burn unit and inpatient rehabilitation services, but all other surgical services would be handled at Allegheny General.

The emergency room will close in January.

The announcement came after the system had already cut 213 jobs at West Penn in January and another 350 at its Suburban General Hospital in June.

CEO Christopher T. Olivia said recent cost-cutting moves made in previous years helped but couldn’t overcome challenges threatening its future.

“We can’t continue to simply cut costs incrementally,” he said. “We have to eliminate duplicate services that continue to cost us money and drive up the overall cost of health care in the community.”

West Penn Allegheny posted net losses of more than $80 million the past two years, including operational losses of $11.5 million in the first three-quarters of the fiscal year ending today.

State Rep. Joe Preston Jr., D-East Liberty, said he was disappointed with the announcement, recalling that when West Penn was an independent hospital, it was very involved in the community.

“This caught a lot of people off guard,” he said. “I’m disappointed they didn’t take the community into consideration. There are a lot of small business suppliers who are going to get hurt, and restaurants too that serve the hospital staff. Unfortunately, I can’t force them to do anything.”

Preston said he planned to attend a July 7 meeting that the Bloomfield Garfield Corp. will look at formulating a united community response, gauging the economic impact, and perhaps finding a collaborative path forward.

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