Lavelle partners with UPMC, but not without opposition, controversy


As UPMC makes plans for a $400 million expansion plan for Mercy Hospital, Pittsburgh Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle recently brokered a deal with UPMC that promised additional benefits to city residents at the site—a “Community Benefits Agreement,” as its named.
City Council passed the vote by a 7-2 margin on July 31, but it wasn’t without opposition and controversy.
It was assailed by activists and unions as caving in to UPMC, which earlier had indicated it would close Mercy Hospital if the expansion plans were nixed.
“There were a couple of critical factors pushing me towards this agreement,” Lavelle said in a statement announcing the Community Benefits Agreement, July 30. “One, it was imperative that we ensure UPMC Mercy remains open for the foreseeable future as a community hospital and continue its commitment to its Catholic mission of serving the poor and those most of in need. UPMC Mercy must continue to play a pivotal role in providing services to those less fortunate, such as the low-moderate income communities in the surrounding Uptown and Hill District neighborhoods.”
Lavelle added: “However, it is equally important that UPMC Mercy commit to addressing many of the economic and social ills that plague its host and surrounding communities. Tying UPMC Mercy’s specific commitments into the goals and objectives of the neighborhood and the Innovation District is an opportunity to truly demonstrate Pittsburgh’s ability to grow the economy and improve the quality of life and economic opportunity of existing city residents, especially people of color and those living in impoverished and underserved communities.”
The $400 million expansion plan calls for creating a state-of-the-art eye treatment and research facility as well as a rehabilitation services center to help restore mobility in those with cognitive and physical disabilities. It is part of UPMC’s system-wide $2 billion expansion.
Lavelle’s amendment included a commitment from UPMC to develop an addiction and dual-diagnosis clinic at the site, and developing an inpatient Integrated Medical Care Unit for the purposes of serving patients with dual medical and behavioral health diagnoses, while working with as many minority community service providers as possible.
In addition, UPMC will work with Lavelle to host job fairs, interview events, resume workshops and provide training for opportunities at UPMC Mercy and the Mercy Vision and Rehabilitation Hospital, which will be built next to UPMC Mercy.
Lavelle’s amendment will also have UPMC partner with the A. Philip Randolph Institute’s “Breaking the Chains of Poverty” program to identify, recruit and train local residents for opportunities in the construction trades apprenticeship programs.
UPMC will also support the city’s One PGH initiatives on affordable housing, a cleaner environment and pre-K education.
But at the July 31 City Council public hearing, many residents took to the microphone and opposed the initiative, as many in the audience don’t believe UPMC pays its employees fair wages or has the community’s best interest at heart.
The Service Employees International Union and Pittsburgh United said Lavelle’s community benefits don’t go far enough.
“Council approved a plan that does far too little to address widening health disparities between rich and poor, White and Black,” said SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania President Matt Yarnell in a statement. “And it approved a plan that leaves UPMC’s union-busting unchecked. It is clear that the needs of Pittsburgh residents clash with UPMC’s plans for us.”
Pittsburgh United President Jennifer Rafanan-Kennedy said the agreement lacks specifics.
“Until we see our needs addressed in concrete terms, with dollar amounts and timelines, we will continue to view this agreement as what it is: UPMC deciding what our community deserves without actually inviting us to the table,” she said in an Aug. 6 statement.
“UPMC threatened to close down Mercy in order to bully us into less than what we need. But this is our Pittsburgh. We want a future where everyone is moving forward together. It’s something worth fighting for, and that’s exactly what we’ll continue to do.”
Allegheny County Councilman DeWitt Walton—who also serves as vice president of the A. Philip Randolph Institute and a longtime member of the United Steelworkers—told the New Pittsburgh Courier in an exclusive interview, Aug. 7, that characterizing Lavelle’s actions as rolling over are not fair.
“I worked closely with Daniel on this issue, and I know he is committed to empowering his constituency by creating opportunities across the city and region, and UPMC is responding,” he said. “I respect the SEIU’s position, but with Daniel doing what he has, that gives the SEIU another chance to negotiate.”
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