For more than 10 years the entire first-year class of the University of Pittsburgh's Medical School has gone to the Mon Valley - to Braddock and McKeesport - as part of a course I lead on public health and medicine. Before they go I ask them, what makes a community healthy? The Mon Valley, with its storied past and its challenging present and future, has been a great learning environment. More important, the people of the valley have been extraordinary, informative hosts to the students.
Now, with the announced plans to close UPMC Braddock hospital ("UPMC to Close Braddock Hospital," Oct. 17), the entire region is taking a crash course in community health that asks similar questions. What will make the Mon Valley a healthier place? Specifically, what might be the health impacts of the proposed closure? Should they be tolerated or mitigated?
Sadly, UPMC chose not to lead with these questions. But that should not deter the rest of us. We must ask them, if only to ensure community accountability from our largest industry. Fortunately there is a new technology - Health Impact Assessment - that can help ensure that whatever decisions are taken are done so with the health of the community in mind (see www.healthimpactproject.org). Perhaps the Allegheny County Health Department, working with all stakeholders and concerned citizens might consider pursuing an HIA of the closure. I am sure some of my students and their Mon Valley hosts will be willing to help out. As will I.
KENNETH S. THOMPSON, M.D.
Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Public Health
University of Pittsburgh