About 100 people filled Pittsburgh City Council chambers Tuesday for a hearing on a proposed UPMC vision and rehabilitation hospital in Uptown. Many were opposed to the plan and called on the multi-billion-dollar non-profit to provide more affordable care and offer expanded benefits for employees.
"Engaging the community is not rocket science, but it does require an interest in listening, investing and becoming a trusted partner," said Jennifer Rafanan Kennedy, interim executive director of advocacy group Pittsburgh United. "So it's not surprising that together, the community came up with a set of demands."
Activists want UPMC to agree to a community health benefits agreement, pledging to pay employees a living wage, allow workers to unionize and guarantee health care access for all Pittsburghers. In 2016, the hospital system pledged to raise it's minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2021.
Before the hearing, activists marched through Downtown and held a rally outside City Council chambers with elected officials. It was there that Lisa Sayre, a registered nurse for UPMC Home Health Services, said the hospital system needs to address the most pressing issues in the community before it focuses on specialty care centers to attract out of towners.
"In my work, I've seen some of this community's need for addiction care, mental health services and primary care," Sayre said. "And those needs are growing rapidly."
At the hearing, UPMC Mercy President Michael Grace said the hospital system, which represents more than 30 hospitals and over 600 outpatient sites, has held community meetings for feedback on the proposal. City Council will vote on the proposal at a later date.