Huge expansions at UPMC Hamot and Saint Vincent – Something good happened in Erie, 2/21/2019

Without further ado, your Idiotville feel-good story of the week:

https://www.goerie.com/news/20190217/erie-hospitals-undergo-major-renovation-expansion

Our city has two hospitals, and each of them is planning to spend nine figures upgrading and adding to their facilities this year. That’s $130 million for Saint Vincent and $111 million for UPMC Hamot. Wow.

Here’s a good rundown of Saint Vincent’s plans from the GoErie article:

Over the next 11 months, the Erie hospital plans to open its renovated women’s and infants unit, Health + Wellness Pavilion East Side, a new emergency department, expanded operating rooms and the Allegheny Health Network Cancer Institute at Saint Vincent.

Meanwhile, UPMC Hamot is busy building a seven-story expansion on East 2nd Street between French and Holland – the largest construction project in Hamot history. With the extra space, they’ll be able to perform kidney transplants, expand neurological facilities, add a comprehensive stroke center, and 22 ICU beds. They’ll be hiring cardiac surgeons, cardiologists, and adding a cardiac MRI.

Between the two hospitals, this is a quarter billion dollars in medical facilities. Why in the world is all this happening in Idiotville in 2019? That’s where it gets really interesting.

A consent decree is in place between Highmark (Saint Vincent Hospital’s parent company) and UPMC, which has resulted in those with Highmark insurance being covered in-network at UPMC Hamot, and those with UPMC Health Plan insurance being covered at Saint Vincent. As of June 30, 2019, that consent decree is set to expire, forcing most everyone in Erie to choose sides.

There has been talk that these expansions are the result of this breakdown in negotiations between these two insurers and providers, and while I see how such a narrative is appealing – Erie hospitals escalate an arms race to draw customers from each other – it seems far-fetched.

For one thing, $100 million investments don’t come together overnight. These are multi year processes that undergo feasibility studies on the front end, many layers of approval within each company, followed by permitting, bidding and contracting. Five years would be lightning speed for putting all that together.

Secondly, contract negotiations are fluid situations that could be resolved at any time, while these enormous capital investments will be irreversible. If both sides dig in and all of Erie is forced to choose UPMC or Highmark, both sides could just as easily have done nothing and ended up with roughly their existing customer base.

No, something else is certainly going on here. These companies have looked at the Erie market long and hard, and they’ve decided our city is ready for some huge, long term growth in healthcare capacity.

In the short term, this means a ton of construction jobs in Idiotville. Concrete will be poured, bricks will be laid, lumber will be cut. Foremen, inspectors, you name it – they’re all coming to work throughout 2019 to get this work done.

In the long run, these facilities will result in more doctors, nurses, nurses aides, administrators, receptionists, janitors, maintenance staff – good paying jobs.

Finally and most importantly for most of us, if you need healthcare there is now a greater chance you’ll get that care right here in Erie.

This is the kind of news that just doesn’t come around here very often. We aren’t arguing over what to do with a decrepit, old bridge today. Or an old brick building on the dock, on the verge of being condemned and with no buyer in sight. We’re talking about private companies investing major dollars right here in Idiotville to make us all safer and healthier.

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