Protesters demand emergency clinic at site of closed UPMC hospitalTuesday, May 11, 2010By Len Barcousky, Pittsburgh Post-GazetteLarry Roberts/Post-GazetteJan McMannis of Braddock Hills passes out information Monday in front of the Allegheny County Courthouse on Grant Street to question County Executive Dan Onorato's actions regarding the closure of UPMC Braddock. Mr. Onorato is a Democratic candidate for governor.
Protesters upset about the closing of UPMC Braddock want assurances that any site redevelopment plans include an emergency medical clinic.
About a dozen protesters, members of a citizens group Save Our Community Hospitals, set up informational picket lines Monday around the Allegheny County Courthouse.
In recent weeks the group has shifted its focus away from pushing for reopening of the hospital, according to David Hughes, a member of the group's steering committee. The protesters' main two goals are to assure that Braddock is a full partner in any redevelopment plan for the hospital site and to persuade UPMC to provide an emergency-care facility on the site.
Protesters also directed their ire at Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato.
They handed out fliers that showed Mr. Onorato as a puppet whose strings were being pulled by UPMC, the health-care giant that operated the Braddock hospital.
Previous protests by the group focused mostly on UPMC and its president, Jeffrey Romoff.
UPMC shut down the hospital on Jan. 31. On Feb. 2, Mr. Onorato unveiled a $29 million proposal to demolish the old hospital and replace it with a facility with senior citizen housing, medical offices and community college classrooms.
UPMC has agreed to provide $5 million for demolition and $3 million to match expected state grants.
"But where is the rest of the money going to come from?" asked picketer Aldora Watt, of Regent Square.
Funding for the project is expected from several sources, including state aid, the sale of development tax credits and private investment.
Those opposed to the hospital closing have faced several setbacks in recent weeks.
In March, a county judge threw out two lawsuits, one seeking to reverse the closing and a second challenging UPMC's tax-exempt status.
On April 13, Braddock Council ended a two-month deadlock over the county's redevelopment plan by approving the proposal.
Protesters on Monday said they were worried about lack of formal commitments to the redevelopment project.
The county and UPMC have not signed any agreement, Mr. Hughes said. The proposal to tear down the hospital and replace it exists only as an exchange of letters and a concept, he said.
When terms of a deal are reached, Braddock officials should be among those signing off on the plans, he said.
Since the hospital has closed, borough residents and those living nearby have had to go to UPMC McKeesport or UPMC Shadyside for emergency treatment, he said. They need a closer emergency medical facility where their conditions can be stabilized, he said.
Braddock Mayor John Fetterman, an early supporter of the redevelopment plan, said he had no worries about Mr. Onorato's commitment to the borough.
"Dan has delivered for Braddock," he said, pointing to construction of new senior citizen housing and plans to redevelop the nearby 168-acre Carrie Furnace site. "Braddock Council knows the outline of what will be built here, and to question Dan's word is outrageous."
At least one other county official, however, has raised questions about the future of the UPMC Braddock site. Speaking at a May 4 council meeting, county Councilman Chuck McCullough, R-Upper St. Clair, warned that he and his colleagues would not "rubber stamp" a redevelopment deal between the county executive and UPMC. "We'll review and weigh in on it," he said.
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