West Penn: Children's Hospital Withholding Care

By Fabregas, Luis | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, August 6, 2008 | Go to article overview
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West Penn: Children's Hospital Withholding Care

Fabregas, Luis, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

State Attorney General Tom Corbett is reviewing a complaint from West Penn Hospital that claims Children's Hospital of UPMC is violating a long-standing agreement to care for all children in the region.

West Penn doctors are upset because Children's no longer will send pediatric surgeons to treat infants at West Penn, as it had for more than 25 years. They say Children's decision to halt its relationship with West Penn has the potential to harm babies who are born at West Penn and must be transported to Children's for minor surgical procedures that routinely were done at West Penn.

"It certainly puts the smallest, most vulnerable patients at risk for a transfer that isn't absolutely necessary to do," Dr. Al Lantzy, director of neonatology at West Penn Hospital in Bloomfield, said Tuesday. "By the time you move the baby around, there's a risk of the baby getting worse."

UPMC officials insist all children in the region have access to care at their facility and cite medical reasons in defending the decision to end the relationship with the Bloomfield hospital.

West Penn, which has the region's second-busiest maternity ward, always relied on Children's Hospital surgeons to come in and perform minor procedures. Those include doing surgeries to repair hernias or intestines, and inserting catheters.

The number of such cases is relatively low -- about 25 a year -- and wouldn't justify the nearly $1 million it would cost West Penn to hire at least two pediatric surgeons, Lantzy said. By contrast, West Penn paid Children's a $4,000 monthly rate and $1,000 per consultation.

"These patients weigh on average 3 pounds, and to put them in an ambulance to Children's not only adds time but cost to the entire health care system," Lantzy said. "It's not the best thing for patient care."

The agreement between Children's and West Penn emerged informally in the late 1970s, when it was common for Children's doctors to do rounds at West Penn and even stick around for a cup of coffee. That changed in 2004 when Children's lost some of its pediatric surgeons and scaled back services at West Penn, limiting them to consultations, inserting catheters and performing some surgeries.

In late 2006, Lantzy and Dr. George K. Gittes, chair of pediatric surgery at Children's, agreed to re-establish the earlier, full- blown agreement at a cost of about $500,000 a year. But that never materialized, and in March Gittes abruptly informed Lantzy that the relationship between the two institutions would be terminated June 15.

"As we started working out the details, it became clear it wasn't going to be viable," Gittes said.

Putting a stop to the West Penn arrangement amounts to a violation of Children's Hospital's commitment to care for all children in the region, Lantzy said.

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