Tuesday, July 2, 2013

UPMC Takes Over, Altoona Mirror Rejoices

If you're a regular reader you'll know that I've mentioned UPMC a couple times in recent months.  Were it not for being on the Blair Dem's Public Access show, Plain Speaking, I might not know anything about the Altoona Regional Hospital System/UPMC merger except the magical and glorious things I heard about it in the Altoona Mirror.  Had I heard about the merger there I would only know what Mirror writer, William Kibbler, wanted to tell me about it, which is basically that it's the best thing ever and there's no downside and there's no need to ask questions, this is great for everyone.

Well, the merger has gone through.  There is apparently at least one UPMC Altoona banner up at the hospital and the fight is over.  Well, mostly.  The Altoona Mirror didn't mention it in their most recent article, but as far, as I can ascertain, the Attorney General hasn't actually approved the merger yet.  Clearly "UPMC Altoona" is either very optimistic or knows something that the public has yet to be privy to, but when I called the Antitrust office at the Attorney General's office they told me that they were as yet unable to comment on that merger.  According to the Mirror though, it's all coming up roses.

Today's article on the merger was a gleeful celebration of the soon-to-be actually official UPMC Altoona.  Tucked into that piece, however, was this a little tidbit that seemed trivial to Willam Kibbler, but sounded like something to me.  He talked to two employees, an IT guy and a registered cardiovascular invasive specialist who expressed these concerns:
"Still, both are leery about the possibility that the acquisition could reduce their benefits, including their retirement package.But they're young enough to move on, if necessary, to cement those benefits, they said."   Fusion with UPMC Comes to Fruition, Altoona Mirror 
Oh well, they're young enough to move on if the benefits suck.  Well that's great for them, but what does it say for the Altoona region?  This region can't afford to say "c'est la vie" to young people moving out of the region for better pay and benefits.  This calls to mind a month or so ago when I visited the hospital with other concerned citizens and Dave Cuzzolino, Director of Marketing and Communications, told us that UPMC keeps costs down by paying their doctors and nurses less.  And this kind of took me into a long conversation with a friend about how Altoona, as a city, likes to shoot itself in the foot as regards publicizing their businesses and attracting people and opportunities into the city.  Maybe that's a whole other article.

In any case, if you haven't been paying attention to the articles about the UPMC merger, here are some of the titles (chronologically):

Antitrust Concerns With UPMC Debated
Petition Protesting Hospital Merger Delivered to Hospital Brass
CEO: Hospital On Target For Merger
ARHS Votes to Join UPMC
UPMC's Altoona Situation Unique
Doctor In Erie Says Fears Unfounded
Hospital Becomes UPMC Altoona

Throughout the articles there's a continuing argument in favor of the merger, pushing that people who are afraid of the merger are needlessly fearful.  People, like the roughly 70,000 insured by Highmark, have nothing to worry about.  Personally, I think that we are rightly concerned, and so are employees of the Altoona Regional Health System...excuse me, UPMC Altoona.  As WTAJ reports, Children's Hospital President Christopher Gessner, who is soon to sit on the new UPMC Altoona board, "can't give a 100% guarantee on job security for employees."  He worries about the pressure to reduce the cost of healthcare.  If UPMC Pittsburgh is anything to go by, they'll be reducing costs on the backs of the nurses, doctors, and other staff of the hospital.  

There will be a community forum of sorts at the Altoona Senior High School Auditorium on July 9 at 6pm.  If you're an interested community member with questions, you should certainly attend.  I hope to be there, if nothing else to see if we finally get any concrete answers beyond the usual "we'll try to work with Highmark" and "no really, for the first year nothing will change at all!"  I'm left wondering what the healthcare landscape in Blair County will look like a year from now.  UPMC talks a good game about competition, but I think that if you asked people in the Allegheny area you'd hear a different tune regarding UPMC's actions when it comes to healthy competition.  In the meantime, I'll be interested to hear whether the AG has actually approved the merger and whether the AG's office will issue some sort of statement explaining their decision, whatever it may be.