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City Council Approves UPMC Mercy Expansion, Despite Outrage From Community

Kathleen Davis
90.5 WESA
Pittsburgh City Council voted 7-2 to approve UPMC’s expansion of its Mercy campus in Uptown.";

After an emotional day in the City County Building, Pittsburgh City Council voted 7-2 to approve UPMC’s expansion of its Mercy campus in Uptown. The decision came after nearly two hours of public comment from community members opposing the plan.

Many spoke out against a short list of promises UPMC calls a community benefits agreement, or CBA, which includes the creation of a mental health unit and an expansion of workforce development programs.
During public comment, residents including Erin Kramer of One Pennsylvania said the list leaves out important demands, including workers’ right to unionize.

“There are benefits for the community in these bullet points which is not an agreement, but you missed the mark,” Kramer said. “You’ve forgotten the community.”
Cries and boos erupted from the crowd as Councilor Daniel Lavelle explained his support for UPMC’s expansion, saying the CBA UPMC put forth will provide for the community. Lavelle represents Uptown.

Councilors Deb Gross and Darlene Harris voted against the plan, citing concerns from the public.

This post was updated on July 31 at 4:51 p.m. 
Pittsburgh City Councilman Daniel Lavelle announced Monday that UPMC has agreed to develop a specialty addiction clinic and grow workforce training programs as part of its expansion of Mercy Hospital in Uptown.

The health care giant announced in November that it plans to build a vision rehabilitation hospital near Mercy, as part of a $2 billion investment that also includes a specialty cancer hospital in Shadyside and a heart and transplant hospital in Oakland.

Opponents of the plan packed City Council chambers during a public hearing two weeks ago, calling on UPMC to improve pay and working conditions for employees, allow workers to unionize and expand access to care for low-income Pittsburghers.

The community benefits agreement announced this week does not specifically address those issues, but it does require UPMC to support the "One PGH" initiative, which the city calls its "strategy for Pittsburgh to thrive in the 21st century as a city of engaged, empowered and coordinated neighbors." The One PGH initiative asks some nonprofits and organizations to give money to address broad issues such as hunger, homelessness and workforce development in Pittsburgh. 

"Tying UPMC Mercy’s specific commitments into the goals and objectives of the neighborhood ... 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," Lavelle said in an e-mailed statement.

Under the agreement, UPMC is expected to develop an Integrated Medical Care Unit to serve patients with both behavior and medical health issues. It also requires that UPMC work with Lavelle to host at least one event that could help businesses in the Hill District and Uptown become vendors for the hospital.

“UPMC was pleased to work with Councilman Lavelle developing this list of initiatives further benefitting the Uptown and Hill District neighborhoods and welcomes his support of our Amended Institutional Master Plan," said UPMC spokesman Paul Wood in an e-mailed statement.

But critics of UPMC's expansion plan are unsatisfied with the community benefits agreement. Jennifer Rafanan-Kennedy, executive director of Pittsburgh United, said in an e-mailed statement that she only learned about the agreement through news articles and that it did not meet the demands she and others presented to City Council in mid-July.

"Those demands include access to UPMC hospitals for every resident who subsidizes them, accountability to reducing shocking health inequality in our city, and living wages and an end to union-busting in UPMC facilities," said Rafanan-Kennedy.

"Make no mistake, the community did not make this agreement," she said.

But Lavelle said in his statement that the agreement has the support of surrounding neighborhoods.

City Council is expected to vote on legislation that would approve the Mercy expansion Tuesday morning.