Hospital plans moving forward on schedule
The Derrick, 11/2/01 By JUDITH O. ETZEL

A special thank you goes out to The Derrick for allowing this article to be posted

THE FORMAL MERGER BETWEEN THE UPMC AND NORTHWEST HEALTH SYSTEMS IS EXPECTED TO HAPPEN NOV. 30.

Two years after announcing a merger aimed at building a new hospital in Venango County, Northwest Health System, the parent organization for the Oil City and Franklin hospitals, is primed to pull it off.

"We are really looking forward to this next month when everything will come together," said Neil Todhunter, chief executive officer of Northwest, following a board of directors meeting this week.

Obviously pleased with the progress to join with the Pittsburgh-based UPMC health system to build a $65 million hospital in Cranberry Township, Todhunter said the formal merger between the sprawling Pittsburgh health care system and Northwest will happen Nov. 30.

"It is lawyers working with lawyers....(and) we expect it will all come together on that date," Todhunter said.

With that agreement in place, a construction document outlining what the new hospital will look like and which health services it will house will be signed. That will trigger a timeline: UPMC must start construction within 18 months, and UPMC has 60 months to complete the building project.

A formal groundbreaking ceremony is scheduled for early spring. However, some preliminary work, including grading the property, will start sooner. The completion of the new hospital is set for July 2004.

Even with the delays since first announcing the merger and subsequent new hospital in October 1999, UPMC and Northwest have not changed the scope of the project.

"It's the same cost: $65 million for the building, equipment, land, infrastructure. And it includes the same health services," Todhunter said.

As UPMC Northwest follows its construction agenda, other hospital-related work will also get under way. That includes widening Route 257 into a three-lane highway, a chore which PennDOT is coordinating; extending municipal water and sewage service to the site, which Cranberry Township is handling; and determining where traffic lights will be installed, also on the township's list of chores.

The size of the acreage owned by UPMC Northwest in Cranberry Township is sparking some interest in hospital related projects, Todhunter said. Early on, the new UPMC Northwest plan included a 50-office physicians building near the new hospital. That is still in the works, according to Todhunter.

"We are assessing our physicians' interest in that office building. We should know here pretty soon about its status," he said.

Other spots on a drawing of the hospital property list a building for use as a psychiatric treatment center and an area for an assisted living development. Those are very preliminary ideas, said Roger McCauley, senior vice president at Northwest.

"They may never happen, but with 144 acres, there is a lot of opportunity for those kinds of things," McCauley said.

The UPMC Northwest project marks the first time the huge Pittsburgh health system has offered to build a replacement hospital as part of a merger deal. Northwest will join 15 other health centers and numerous community surgical centers, rehabilitation centers, in-home and long-term care services, and retirement centers now under the umbrella of UPMC.

Hospitals in the western Pennsylvania network include large systems (Magee Women's Hospital and UPMC Presbyterian) as well as smaller hospitals (UPMC Braddock and UPMC Horizon). UPMC has 30,000 staff members and more than 5,000 physicians.