Councilman Lavelle Says Deal With UPMC Mercy Constrained By Circumstances

Aug 9, 2018

The community benefits agreement finalized with UPMC Mercy last week is very different from the Lower Hill agreement struck with the Pittsburgh Penguins, said city Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle, who was party to both negotiations.

“Two totally different scenarios, and I don’t even think they’re truly comparable,” he said.

The Penguins deal took nearly two years to finalize, allowed for a much larger framework, and was signed by the mayor, the county executive and representatives from the Hill District, said Lavelle.

By contrast, he said negotiations with UPMC started in earnest a month ago, and was limited to a narrow procedural question.

“[The agreement] was an amendment to a piece of zoning legislation, where council can only put conditions on. And so my parameters to negotiate a quote unquote CBA were very different," he said.

The zoning change, vocally opposed by community members and approved by a 7-2 vote in Council’s last meeting before the August recess, will allow UPMC Mercy to move forward on the $400 million expansion of its Uptown campus. The conditions attached by council cover four areas: health equity, local hiring and business development opportunities, community benefit and green space.

The agreement commits to developing a clinic for addiction medicine, a unit to care for patients with medical and behavioral health diagnoses and to fund street medicine work; to expand existing workforce programs, to host hiring events and to partner with community entities; the agreement also says UPMC will continue to support the city’s OnePGH initiative.

OnePGH remains in the planning stages. Eventually, it will ask nonprofits and businesses to give money to address broad issues such as hunger and homelessness.

Unlike the Penguins agreement, the UPMC Mercy agreement is not set out in a signed document. Exactly how the elements of the plan will be implemented and on what timeline are also not spelled out. Regardless, Lavelle said the agreement with UPMC is legally binding, and that if either the Penguins or UPMC were to renege on their promises, the city’s recourse in both cases would be to go to court.

“So one doesn’t give a higher threshold of legality than the other.”

UPMC declined to comment on a timeline for the Mercy agreement, but spokesperson Paul Wood said in an emailed statement, “UPMC appreciates the productive and meaningful conversations we have had with Councilman Lavelle and Mayor Bill Peduto on initiatives to benefit the Uptown and Hill District communities as we continue to invest in Pittsburgh and as we move forward with construction of the UPMC Vision and Rehabilitation Hospital at UPMC Mercy.”

Jennifer Rafanan-Kennedy of Pittsburgh United said in a statement that the agreement contains no specifics, and does not guarantee that vulnerable residents will be unharmed in the process of expanding the hospital.

“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.”

During the last few months, the closure of UPMC Mercy had been raised as a possibility. Rafanan-Kennedy characterized that as a threat used to prevent discussions on such issues as unionization of the hospital network’s workforce. For Lavelle, it lent immediacy to negotiations.

“One of my goals was to ensure that did not occur,” he said, adding that he will push UPMC to deliver on its promises. “I’ve yet to ever see one agreement that addresses everyone’s concerns ... The work doesn’t stop. Now you have to implement this, now you have to hold them accountable.”