UPMC scrutinized for use of private jet amid layoffs

Less than one year prior to laying off about 1,000 employees, Pittsburgh-based UPMC began leasing a jet for business-related travel. The cost to lease the jet was not disclosed, but a 2023 Bombardier Global 6500 runs at a pre-owned purchase price of $52 million, according to AVBuyers

Leasing and owning jets is not an uncommon investment for many large health systems. A spokesperson for UPMC told Becker's in a statement that the jet was leased for "business travel and transporting key clinicians for patient care."

"No, we have no concerns," UPMC CEO Leslie Davis told WTAE when asked about using the new jet. "We have lots of tools and lots of things we do to manage UPMC. We have lots of robots and things that take care of patients in the operating room, and we have transportation issues related to our executives and our physicians when they travel abroad. And so everything is scrutinized and looked at very carefully."

Outside of the U.S., UPMC, which saw an operating loss of $103 million in the first quarter of 2024, has increased travel with international partnerships and investments.

Last October, UPMC began working with Italian foundation Ri.MED to open a biomedical research center in Sicily to employ around 600 people, along with 60 investigators. The health system acquired Sports Surgery Clinic, an independent hospital that specializes in orthopedic surgery in Dublin, Ireland, in January of 2023. It has also partnered with Dragan Primorac, MD, PhD, a physician and professor in Croatia, to open the first of multiple cancer centers in the country.

UPMC had taken 90 flights on the jet to Italy, Croatia and Ireland since May 2023, WTAE reported, according to JetSpy records. 

Pennsylvania United executive director Alex Hanson said in a statement shared with Becker's that UPMC's lease of the jet leaves the communities it cares for to further struggle "...All while cutting their workforce by nearly 1000 employees as healthcare workers are in crisis and patients deal with the fallout," he said.

Pennsylvania United is a progressive, grassroots organization with six chapters. The advocacy organization received significant PAC contributions from government unions in the 2021 to 2022 election cycle, according to the Commonwealth Foundation website.

While the UPMC spokesperson told Becker's that the health system uses the jet purely for business travel and clinician transportation, other large companies have upped the amount of personal time spent on corporate jets.

In fact, The Wall Street Journal found that S&P 500 companies spent $65 million for executives to use corporate jets for personal travel in 2022, a 55% increase from 2019.

Dallas-based Steward Health Care also operated two private planes. One of the planes is a Bombardier Global 6000, which costs $62 million when purchased new, and was put up for sale in February. The other is a Falcon 2000LX, The Boston Globe reported.

The Falcon 2000LX can cost anywhere from $28 million to $36 million when preowned, AVBuyers reported. 

Both of Steward's planes have traveled internationally over the last two years, including trips to Italy and the Bahamas, the Globe reported.

Steward, which filed for bankruptcy May 6, is also looking to sell its hospitals and physician group, Stewardship Health. 

Along with its hospitals and Stewardship Health in the U.S., Steward also has Steward Health Care International in Madrid, Spain, according to its LinkedIn page.

Editor's note: This article was updated on July 9 at 10:30 a.m. CT.

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