A Call for Action to Finalize the Affiliation of Washington Health System and UPMC

“We are here to highlight what has become a major issue in Washington County and Greene County: the proposed merger between the Washington Health System and UPMC,” said State Representative Tim O’Neal (R-Washington).

Rep. O’Neal, alongside Washington Health System (WHS) employees and members of the Washington County legislative delegation, held a press conference in Harrisburg on April 9.

Their objective: To call on Gov. Josh Shapiro to ensure local health care access for residents of Washington and Greene counties by taking a stand and working with the Pennsylvania attorney general to finalize the affiliation of WHS and UPMC.

‘We Risk Almost 300,000 People Not Having Health Care’

“Political bickering and petty fighting have found a way to put this critical merger at risk,” said O’Neal. “The state’s attorney general must approve the merger before it can be finalized. It’s become abundantly clear that political pressures have affected this decision.”

JoJo Burgess (D), mayor of the city of Washington, echoed the same concern. “If we don’t take care of this merger to take care of the people, we risk almost 300,000 people not having health care.”

En route from Washington to Harrisburg, Mayor Burgess talked with Marty Griffin and Larry Richert earlier that day on KDKA-AM’s Big K Morning Show. “The hospital stands to lose $34 million this year and $40 million next year. This crisis is real. Without UPMC, Washington Health System will close.”

Burgess continued, “We have bipartisan support, we have organized labor support. We need to send a clear message of the unity we have in the Washington area. Let’s cut the red tape, review everything and get this deal done so we can protect our hospital.”

Unanimous Support for a WHS-UPMC Affiliation

The bipartisan support of elected officials — united to save Washington Health System through a WHS-UPMC affiliation — was reinforced by O’Neal and Burgess at the press conference.

“What you’re seeing here today is something that is rare this day and age in politics. What we have today is unanimous bipartisan support of elected officials that says we need to have our hospital saved,” said Burgess.

An April 9 press release by the Washington County Delegation cited the sole detractor of the proposed WHS-UPMC affiliation is the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Frances Kino, emergency department technician at WHS Greene and former SEIU member, spoke, representing her 2,700 WHS health care co-workers.

“I strongly feel the SEIU doesn’t have ours or my community’s best interest in mind by opposing Washington Health System’s merger with UPMC,” said Kino. “The health system will flounder if they do not merge with UPMC. I simply ask that you think of the thousands of people, like my parents, who rely on the close vicinity of Washington Health System providers.”

The day following the press conference, Rep. O’Neal stressed the detrimental effect of the SEIU’s actions on the communities of Washington and Greene in an interview on the April 10 KDKA-AM’s Big K Morning Show. “And the saddest part about the whole thing is they already represent employees in the Washington Health System. They’re putting their own members’ jobs at risk for this political fight with UPMC in the City of Pittsburgh that has nothing to do with Washington and Greene counties.”

O’Neal reinforced, “Without this deal, the Washington Health System is going to be forced to start cutting services and ultimately be on the path to closure.”

Community Leaders Unite to Save Washington Health System

At Tuesday’s press conference, Washington County legislatures reflected on the first-of-its-kind public hearing held on Jan. 18 where nearly every testifier spoke in support of a WHS-UPMC affiliation.

“Yet months later, there is still no action to complete the process, leaving employees and health care services at risk in Washington and Green counties,” said O’Neal.

Local legislatures, organized labor representatives, community leaders, WHS employees and WHS patients and their physicians unite in support of a WHS-UPMC affiliation that will save the needed health care services and livelihoods of the thousands who are touched by Washington Health System.

  • “The UPMC acquisition of Washington Health System will present opportunities to the region, preserving jobs and maintaining services for all patients. We encourage the governor to take a stand in the best interest of the public and help expedite this process because the current situation is not sustainable.” — Rep. Josh Kail (R-Beaver/Washington), Washington County legislative delegation press release, April 9
  • “It’s about the people, that’s why I’m here — our members and their families. There’s lives at risk here. We’ve got to get this through. UPMC went through a fair bid process. The Commissioner mentioned about the $300 million of investment over the next 10 years, that’s jobs — jobs for our tradespeople that live in the area, jobs for their families that may work at Washington Health.”
    Mark Shepler, financial secretary, International Union of Operating Engineers Local 66, Washington County legislative delegation press conference, April 9
  • “Governor, We need you to get involved and make this happen. We cannot afford to lose such a valuable asset. Please engage. Make it happen. Let’s get it done, it’s way past the time.”
    Bud Cook (R-Greene/Washington) Washington County legislative delegation press conference, April 9
  • “Affiliating with UPMC, a longstanding WHS partner, is critical to both keep WHS open for business today and thriving into the future. Absent this transaction, it’s highly unlikely that WHS will continue to serve our community for the long term. Our community and patients will benefit greatly if this transaction is approved and approved quickly.”
    Electra Janis (R) Washington County Commissioner, Washington County legislative delegation press conference, April 9
  • “The lack of action on this topic is creating unnecessary hardships. There are business and financial aspects to health care and these needless delays create unpredictability and instability. I’m all for due diligence and making thoughtful decisions, but these discussions have dragged on long enough, and the residents in our local communities deserve answers.”
    Rep. Natalie Mihalek (R-Allegheny/Washington) Washington County legislative delegation press release, April 9
  • “Health care deserts very quickly can turn into economic deserts. It’s hard to get the kind of quality workforce we need here in Pennsylvania for the jobs available if people can’t access quality health care. It’s critical to our economic development strategy. Unfortunately, what we’ve heard today is playing out in many of our rural communities all throughout Pennsylvania. The difference is here we’re talking about a solution for Washington and Greene counties. A solution has been put on the table that will not only protect local health care jobs but protect local jobs in every industry within Washington and Green counties. We urge the AG to move on this.”
    Neal Lesher , director of Government Affairs, Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, Washington County legislative delegation press conference, April 9
  • “We have to save a legendary rural hospital in southwestern Pennsylvania. We risk almost 300,000 people not having health care and having to travel into Pittsburgh to try to take care of themselves. There are 2,700 jobs at stake right now with this merger. That’s not counting the other countless jobs that would be provided to the community with upgrades to the facilities because of the injection of money that they get. SEIU, I challenge you: Instead of putting up roadblocks, trying to block something because of something you can’t accomplish in Pittsburgh, join the battle. Get people on your side to help you negotiate and fight for your workers. Build your membership and get out of the way of this because we need it for our community. Our health care is at stake right now.”
    JoJo Burgess (D), mayor of the city of Washington, Washington County legislative delegation press conference, April 9
  • “Thankfully, UPMC proposed an affiliation with Washington Health System that would inject much needed capital and, more importantly, allow all hospital employees to keep their jobs with no cut in pay or benefits and ensure there would be no loss in services. SEIU opposition has nothing to do with Washington or Green County or the Washington Health System. [I encourage] Governor Shapiro to personally take a stand, personally get involved and help us resolve the issue we’re seeing with this merger — and help us save these jobs.”
    Rep. Tim O’Neal (R-Washington), Washington County legislative delegation press conference, April 9