Healthy conversion: Suburban General will still heal the sick

Written by Susan Mannella on .

Anyone looking to equate the West Penn Allegheny Health System's withdrawal from Suburban General hospital with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's closing of Braddock hospital will be sorely disappointed.

While the West Penn system announced May 13 that it plans to close the emergency room and inpatient care at its Suburban General campus in Bellevue, the building will not be emptied and demolished in the hope of some future development. This hospital will be converted to a long-term acute care facility with an urgent care center and limited outpatient services.

LifeCare Hospitals already maintains 41 long-term acute care beds there, plans to expand to 50 beds and may even add another 50 skilled nursing or transitional care beds by the end of the year. Suburban General's employees, 275 of whom are full time, will be urged to apply for positions with LifeCare or elsewhere in WPAHS.

West Penn Allegheny said that 86 percent of those treated in the Bell- evue ER could have been seen in an urgent care office. Besides, the next nearest emergency room is only on Pittsburgh's North Side, at Allegheny General Hospital.

Bellevue is also a community unlike Braddock, which is in desperate financial straits. Bellevue has a healthy business district with restaurants, a car dealer, bakeries, gift shops, other retail merchants and medical and financial offices. It has fine housing stock and safe, attractive neighborhoods. Although it's understandable that some residents in the borough wish they had a full-functioning hospital in town, Bellevue can weather the transition that West Penn anticipates.

Like UPMC and its Braddock closing, WPAHS looked at the financial bottom line at Suburban General and found it lacking. Unlike UPMC, the West Penn system has no global reach and far less profit -- so a change had to be made. The good news for Bellevue is the building will still be devoted to patient care, and many of the same ills and injuries that residents brought to Suburban General will still be treated there.


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