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Poor Health: As the Region's Healthcare Industry Grows, Charitable Care is Hard to Find

Connor Tarter

One quarter of Pittsburgh area hospitals closed in the first decade of the 21st Century, drastically reducing the amount of charitable care available to the poor. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Sean Hamill looks at the implications in his two-part series "Poor Health."

Hamill spent a good deal of time speaking to people in clinic waiting rooms, he says while these people know where they can possibly see a doctor, they are only seen for five minutes. Hamill says hospitals were not like this years ago.

“The big advantage to the hospitals that existed before they were torn down…was, once you came in for something more severe than a cold, it might require some specialty care, some diagnostics care, you could get that all within the same hospital. They would keep you there, they would do the triage you required through an emergency room, but they would also make sure you got that next level of care.”

Specialty care, says Hamill, is what the Affordable Care Act was designed to help. Hamill says this is not yet the case for these lower income families requiring doctor’s visits. They are often directed elsewhere.

“Too often, and all the hospitals will tell you this, they’re coming through the emergency room. This is again what the Affordable Care Act was designed to stop. So you won’t go there if your kid has a sniffle, you won’t go there if your back is just a little bit sore, that you will use it really for trauma care.”

Hamill’s series also talks about regions where hospitals and clinics qualify their patients on the basis of need, all while still ensuring they still see a doctor throughout care. This keeps people outside of the emergency room and saves hospitals money, however, Pittsburgh does not utilize this system.

“My hope is that this series will generate a conversation about that. What can we do in this incredibly gifted community to help the poor?”

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