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Closing of hospital threatens community

Credit: Jessica Thurston/Contributing Editor Credit: Jessica Thurston/Contributing Editor

Yesterday, the Braddock branch of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) closed its doors for good.

Since the $8 billion nonprofit announced on Oct. 16 that it would be closing UPMC Braddock, grassroots organizations such as Save Our Community Hospitals have mobilized protesters to speak out against what they see as injustice being done to the community. People protesting the closure of UPMC Braddock — including those activists dressed up as zombies and others hosting a mock corporate board meeting on the streets of downtown Pittsburgh — are complaining that UPMC is abandoning the community of Braddock and that the closure is the result of corporate greed.

Beyond the closure of this branch alone, though, is the overarching nationwide issue of closures of hospital branches in under-served neighborhoods. While we recognize that running a hospital is a business operation like any other, there has to be an overhaul in the way health care is distributed and prioritized in the Pittsburgh area. Paul Wood, a spokesman for UPMC, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the user rate of the Braddock branch had declined “below levels necessary to sustain it.”

But what about those people who moved to Braddock because of the once-promising branch? While protesters initially called the closure illegal, a judge ruled Friday that it was not. Regardless of the legality of the issue, the fact is that the vastness of the UPMC branches is known as an important aspect of our city’s emphasis on health care. If branches begin to close, succumbing to economic woes and leaving patients without immediate access to an emergency room, UPMC’s image as a prominent center of research and patient care could be negatively affected.

One benefit that will emerge from the closure of UPMC Braddock is its evolution into a space for high school classrooms. Students will be able to work hands-on in a real medical setting, hopefully better preparing them for careers in medicine. This long-term benefit to the community is indeed an important one, though prioritizing the long-term over the short-term may compromise Braddock overall.