By Jon Delano

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — West Penn Hospital employees were all smiles after a Wednesday morning with hospital and Highmark officials.

“Great, wonderful, just great, we’re really excited, about time” — were just a few of the comments.

A packed auditorium heard West Penn Allegheny CEO Dr. Keith Ghezzi declare, “In spite of the difficulties of the past few years, the heart and soul of this institution is vibrant and intact.”

Officials unveiled drawings of a renovated West Penn Hospital that improves the exterior look, increases patient beds from under 200 to over 300, expands the existing maternity area and upgrades the neonatal intensive care unit.

The architect for the $18 million project is Louis Astorino.

Dr. Ken Melani, CEO of Highmark that is acquiring the West Penn Allegheny Health System, delivered long-expected news to great applause.

“Both organizations made a commitment to reinstate essential services and to reopen the emergency department at West Penn Hospital.”

It’s a needed economic boost.

“That’s great for the business district. Businesses have just been holding on waiting for this,” noted Karla Ownes of the Bloomfield Development Corp.

“This means new life. West Penn is actually the life line of the community,” added Janet Scullion of the Bloomfield Citizens Council.

Highmark’s Melani emphasized that this was one of the benefits of the giant insurance company’s acquisition of the hospital system.

“Reopening of West Penn’s emergency room department is one of the steps that we are taking to assure the community that it has the health resources that it needs.”

“I think the plans are do-able and will be a wonderful resource for the Pittsburgh community,” said Dr. Carl Srodes, a hospital physician in the audience.
Melani said Highmark’s rescue of the West Penn preserved options.

“It is also an important milestone for consumers that want the security of health care choices,” he told the audience.

“We’re going to make sure that patients have choices. We’re going to make sure that physicians and other health care employees have choices.”

Of course, future choices may be costly if UPMC facilities are not covered by Highmark insurance.

At a press conference, Melani said Children’s Hospital will be available to Highmark subscribers until 2023.

As for other UPMC facilities, “We’re not going to entertain a preposterous proposal.”

“What we need to do is get a contract that gives people full access to all those not-for-profit assets that they amassed with community money, and that’s where we are. And we’re willing to talk, we’re sitting at the table,” insisted Melani.

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