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Objections delay UPMC's expansion into NY

The New York State Department of Health has tabled a request by Pittsburgh-based UPMC to take over WCA Hospital in Jamestown, N.Y.

UPMC signed a partnership agreement with WCA Hospital in late 2015, and the organizations filed plans with the state department of health in early 2016.

Under the agreement, UPMC has committed to invest at least $25 million in 317-bed WCA Hospital over the next 10 years. The funds will be used for physician recruitment, facility upgrades and EMR capabilities. UPMC will also assume WCA Hospital's debt and pension obligations.

"WCA's integration with UPMC, one of the premier healthcare systems in the nation, is a major step toward a strong future for healthcare in our community," said Steve Kilburn, chair of the WCA Hospital board of directors, last December.

The proposed transaction was considered Thursday during an establishment committee meeting of the DOH's Public Health and Health Planning Council, which approves ownership and program changes at hospitals in New York.

Opponents of the deal, including union representatives and nurses, expressed their concerns during the meeting. They said UPMC has a history of cutting access to care, and they fear WCA Hospital doesn't know what it is getting into.

"We are sharing our experience so your community may be spared," Silas Russell, policy director for SEIU Healthcare PA, said during the meeting. "Is this Jamestown hospital prepared for the disruptions to come?"

WCA Hospital CEO Betsy Wright told the committee that the hospital explored partnership options with other systems, and decided UPMC was the best fit. "We've done our homework," she said. "UPMC has committed to growth and sustainability."

Charles Abel, deputy director for the Center for Health Care Facility Planning Licensure and Finance within DOH, echoed Ms. Wright. He said WCA Hospital has been struggling financially for years, and the proposed takeover by UPMC could provide a sustainable healthcare presence in Jamestown.

At the end of the meeting, committee members voted to table the request to allow additional review. A special meeting regarding the proposed transaction is scheduled for June 9, according to the report.

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