UPMC Hamots affiliation with the Pittsburgh well being system

Now, 10 years later, it’s easy to downplay the concerns of some Erie political and community leaders about Hamot Medical Center’s accession to UPMC.

Barry Grossman, then Erie County Executive, said his biggest fear was that Hamot would downsize and potentially close if patients were sent to Pittsburgh for treatment.

Grossman, who died in May 2020, saw these fears proven false. Instead of downsizing or shutting down, Hamot has grown its share of the healthcare market in northwest Pennsylvania over the past decade.

UPMC President David Gibbons said Hamot’s share of the county’s patient revenue increased from 41% in 2010 to 54.6% in 2020.

“Our daily census when we came to UPMC was 235 patients,” Gibbons said. “In 2020 – if you remove the months of March, April and May because of the COVID-19 pandemic – we had an average of 334 patients. That is significant.”

Hamot’s decision to join the Pittsburgh healthcare system in February 2011 was the first in a series of local hospital affiliations and mergers as hospitals looked for ways to control costs and improve doctor recruitment.

A surgical team from UPMC Hamot is performing a cryoablation procedure in Erie on June 7, 2017 to treat a patient's irregular heartbeat.

Since then, Saint Vincent Hospital joined Highmark’s newly created Allegheny Health System in 2013, Titusville Area Hospital joined Meadville Medical Center in 2015, and Corry Memorial Hospital joined LECOM Health in 2018.

“I think Hamot would look very different 10 years later if it hadn’t been for affiliation,” Gibbons said. “Just look at the breadth of clinical benefits added. Our kidney transplant program would not have existed. We couldn’t hire that many surgeons to make this happen.”

UPMC pledged to spend $ 300 million on technology and facilities improvements at Hamot for the first 10 years of its affiliation. To date, it has spent about $ 400 million, Gibbons said.

This includes the latest major project, the seven-story Hamot patient tower. It cost $ 111 million and is the single most expensive project in Hamot history.

UPMC Hamot's new patient tower will be shown on January 29th.  The patient tower is located at 104 E. Second St. and is where the Hamot Professional Building was.  It is linked to both the main hospital and Magee-Womens, UPMC Hamot.  It cost $ 111 million and is the single most expensive project in Hamot history.

More:The new UPMC Hamot patient tower is ready. Intensive care patients will be brought there from Tuesday

“Belonging to a larger health system has given us more security,” said Dr. Richard Petrella, a cardiologist who has been with Hamot for 30 years. “With projects like the patient tower, these were things that would have been extremely difficult for us alone.”

Hamot’s new buildings have changed the look of Erie’s Bay, but the biggest change since being part of it is the role Hamot has played in expanding UPMC’s reach.

As the center of the northern level of the healthcare system, Hamot plays a critical role in caring for patients in Kane and Jamestown, New York.

“Hamot was our first affiliation with a hospital that was far removed from our other hospitals,” said Leslie Davis, executive vice president and chief operating officer of UPMC Health Services Division, who served as Hamot’s liaison when she joined UPMC. “The affiliation went so well that we received the draft for future affiliations such as UPMC Altoona and UPMC Susquehanna.”

Gibbons, Davis, and other UPMC officials talk enthusiastically about the past 10 years, but there have been obstacles.

A look back:Erie hospitals are preparing for the split with massive expansions

Stephen Milcarek (left) and Aimee Hagerty (right) leave UPMC Hamot's OR department with a kidney (in a box) on January 26, 2018.  UPMC Hamot started kidney transplantation in 2018.

One that attracted national attention was the battle between UPMC and Highmark. The consent ordinances between the two Pittsburgh-based health giants should expire in June 2019.

Had that happened, people with Highmark health insurance would pay much higher expenses for treatment at Hamot and other UPMC hospitals and doctor’s offices. It resulted in thousands of residents in the Erie area switching doctors or health insurance plans.

However, UPMC and Highmark reached a new 10-year agreement just days before the consent regulations expired.

Gibbons said the UPMC Highmark problems pale in comparison to the COVID-19 pandemic.

At UPMC Hamot on December 17, James Donnelly, RN, left, Tylesha Williams, 26, right, gives a patient care technician at UPMC Hamot the first COVID-19 vaccination in Erie.

“There was nothing bigger than the pandemic because it affected both our clinical and business sides,” Gibbons said. “I cannot imagine treating this pandemic as an independent hospital.”

More:COVID-19, a year later: Pennsylvania hospitals deal with financial, emotional distress

As Hamot enters its second decade as a UPMC hospital, Gibbons and Davis agreed that it will continue to serve as the healthcare system’s northern hub.

Patients from UPMC’s smaller hospitals in the region continue to be brought to Hamot for treatments that their own hospitals cannot provide. Some Hamot patients are brought to Pittsburgh for high-level procedures and operations that Erie Hospital does not offer.

“But it’s not nearly the number that some people feared 10 years ago,” said Davis. “Since we became a member, the number of patients leaving Erie County for treatment has decreased by 12%.

“The truth is that Hamot has expanded its reach to new communities.”

Contact David Bruce at dbruce@timesnews.com. Follow him on Twitter @ETNBruce.

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