Commonwealth Medical Center, Aliquippa, Pennsylvania

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33QNS2K9Ag6mZoIypcviAbeYUoVdjcf2oCbi4XDCqvEAliquippa Community Hospital, in the City of Aliquippa near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, opened May 12, 1957. Entrenched in the city’s foundation for over 50 years, the three story, yellow brick building went through a number of owners and names until closing as Commonwealth Medical Center in December 2008. The facility had just under 100 beds.

Originally established with contributions from area steelworkers, in the late 1990’s the hospital’s name was UPMC Beaver Valley. Commonwealth Medical Center purchased the facility in 2007 for $23 million in an attempt to restructure a facility that had lost more than $12 million since 2004.
0CehxvHxV2qoiESVtKZe8JXVF8sjhmt91Ofj67dKfQEIn late 2008, Pennsylvania’s Department of Health banned the hospital from admitting new patients when it discovered that the community hospital not only was in arrears on its bills, but it was lacking critical supplies to ensure patient safety.

The Department tried to work with the hospital administration to lift the ban, yet noted its commitment to patient safety.  At the time a State representative stated: “Our obligation is to ensure that the hospital is adhering to all the applicable state regulations and can operate safely. The hospital’s financial situation isn’t our primary concern — the safety of its patients is.”  According to a local resident, Walter Dorer: “They’ve been at this same issue for years now. They just can’t get the volume base to make it run.”

Even though the hospital had reduced the number of employees to 189 from 305, it was not enough. In December 2008, Commonwealth Medical Center filed for bankruptcy protection (its predecessor, Aliquippa Community Hospital, did the same in 2002).  One week later, the hospital closed, finally ending what had once symbolized pride in the community.

John O’Donnell, chief executive officer and interim president of the hospital stated at the time: “We want to express our heartfelt thanks to all steelworkers and the families of the steelworkers who unselfishly donated money to the hospital, the dedicated employees, physicians, volunteers and community members we have been privileged to serve these past 51 years.”

Although the hospital had a history of regulatory and financial problems, the residents had ample time to prepare for the closing the statement by Aliquippa Mayor Anthony Battalini best summarized the local sentiment: “It’s devastating to the city.”

Weeks after the hospital’s December 13 closing, hospital employees were in court contending that Commonwealth Medical Center failed to provide their final paychecks — in an amount of $482,900. When the hospital closed, it stated there was no longer any financing to continue operations, so it abruptly eliminated over 200 jobs just before the winter holidays.
cCJfm3Nog03IryGqZz-LAxMr_u-1JGluuCrRlViRJ6IA local resident purchased the hospital property in 2009 for $250,000.  Unable to salvage the hospital, the owner had medical equipment, furnishings and other materials removed from the location for reuse elsewhere.

Like many residents in the community, the owner’s connection included relatives (his father, uncles and cousins) who worked for J&L Steel and formed the group of steelworkers that contributed toward the creation of the hospital.

After 10 truckloads, rescued from the hospital were stretchers, waiting room furniture, medical supply cabinets, surgical supplies, light fixtures, ceiling tiles and office furnishings. The community had given up hope that the hospital would eventually reopen, but it would never forget their institution.

“There’s still the emotional factor there. Children were born there, people were living and dying there every day,” said Thomas Stoner, Aliquippa’s city administrator. “It was just like J&L in that it was part of your life growing up. But there comes a time when you have to move forward.”

Photo credit: www.bizjournals.com

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Posted: October 12, 2014

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Category: All, Lost Hospitals, Pennsylvania

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