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About the UPMC Sites Project

The Walking Tour

This site was created for an assignment to design a "walking tour" of a specific place. I chose to document the locations and some of the history behind properties owned by UPMC (University of Pittsburgh Medical Center) in the greater Pittsburgh area. UPMC-owned property has been a sore spot recently; their tax exempt status is being called into question, and in late 2012, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published a series of pieces questioning UPMC's real estate practices.

Using data gathered from a variety of sources, including the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and several Allegheny County records departments, I have mapped the 100 most valuable properties owned by UPMC. They're color-coded depending on whether or not the properties are taxable, and appear on a timeline according to the dates they were acquired. Anyone can look at the map, find their neighborhood, and check out the values of any UPMC properties in the area (as of 2002; Allegheny County is currently reassessing for 2013). Click here to view the map.

If you want to see just the timeline of the properties, click here. If you're interested, you can also read on for a short-ish long-ish piece that provides the reasoning behind what I've done and some background information. It supplements the somewhat sparse map, and includes information about the community response to UPMC Braddock being shut down and UPMC's tangle with union organizers. If you click "UPMC Facts" on the nav bar above, you'll get a bulleted list of facts about UPMC, some of which appear in the piece and some of which don't.

Death and Taxes

UPMC already has its name on a lot of buildings all over the county. Why don't we just change the name of this county to UPMC?" -James Ellenbogen, Allegheny City Council

On April 15, 2012 ("Tax Day"), a group of protesters marched on UPMC's main building with a petition demanding the company pay the $204 million in property taxes it would owe if it weren't classified as tax-exempt. In December 2012, a hearing was held about UPMC's tax-exempt status. Because the health system is considered a "charitable organization," it is exempt from paying property taxes on much of the property it owns. But as of a 2007 legislation, this status can be contested every 3 years. At the hearing, representatives from UPMC met with members of the public to make a case for maintaining their tax-exempt status. Non-representatives attending the meeting were heavily critical of the policy; when representatives got up to leave only 45 minutes into the session, someoneone shouted, "Hope your limousines don't break down!"

UPMC's relationship to the larger Pittsburgh community, its status as a nonprofit organization , and its treatment of employees are all contested issues that have drawn some extra attention recently in light of the disputes over its tax-exempt status. These contestations are often related to the cloudy definitions and connotations of health care, hospitals, and nonprofits.

In 2002, St. Francis Memorial Hospital in Lawrenceville, a local landmark for almost 150 years, was shut down and slated to be replaced by the relocated Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC. An opinion piece published in the Post-Gazette mourned its loss:

What I can't fully reconcile is why St. Francis did not have any place in today's health-care system.

If it had filed for bankruptcy, St. Francis would seem to be placed in the category of Enron and WorldCom. Yet nothing would be further from the truth. No deception or theft occurred on the part of wayward CFOs or other executives. Its flaw was not that it could not provide a quality service to the community, just that it did so without a greater goal of building profit, efficiency, size or prestige. That its clientele did not always have the resources or insurance to pay was a reason to give them more care, not less. It didn't work as a business model, because it was not a business model; it was a vocation. -Chris Briem

Although the author of this piece carefully abstains from attacking UPMC, the implication about what kind of hospitals "succeed" in the new health system is pretty clear. And UPMC does succeed. At the hearing, when a representative defended the health system's tax-exempt status by citing community benefits - for example, "$47 million, including $34 million in charity care" in 2011; but a health care consultant pointed out that the annual community benefits provided by UPMC - which he estimates at $96 million - represent "under 2 percent of annual hospital revenues." And a 2012 report in the Pittsburgh Business Times claims 22 UPMC employees make an annual salary of over $1 million, CEO Jeffrey Romoff coming in first at $5.97 million. A City Paper article quotes a local social justice organizer on UPMC as having "spent years 'branding the heck out of themselves to make money.'"

Central to the friction between UPMC and various communities is their status as a space: both as a space within the greater place that is Pittsburgh, and in their claim to a type of space historically considered charitable and community-driven. With this in mind, i'd like to draw attention to two different issues that highlight UPMC as a contested space: their recent problems stemming from their retaliation against workers trying to create a union, and the community response to their decision to close one of their hospitals in a low-income, non-white neighborhood.

UPMC and Unions

In early 2012, nonclinical workers at some UPMC locations became involved in movements to organize into a union. An anonymous employee who participated in union organizing efforts at UPMC claims that "sometime in May of [2012] the SEIU [Service Employees International Union] started work on organizing the employees at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's flagship hospitals, UPMC Presbyterian, Montifiore and Shadyside."

A Post-Gazette article says that the organizing efforts began in January. In May, the presidents of two UPMC locations sent out notices to employees saying, "We do not want the SEIU here because we do not believe this union or any other union would be in your best interest or the best interest of UPMC and the people we serve."

By mid-June, the Post-Gazette reports, openly "anti-union" activities had escalated at UPMC. Meetings were held, "weekly and sometimes daily," at which managers discouraged employees from organizing. Some employees received letters claiming that if they got involved in a union, "there may be consequences to you and your family." As the anonymous employee relates:

The "union" is always talked about in some sort of strange, third-person way that suggests a foreign body invading and taking over the hospital and stripping us of our current rights and benefits and leaving us bereft of both jobs and benefits since we will be continually on strike. In other words, I've learned that the current management will say or do almost anything to prevent this union from getting started.

Problems between the unions and UPMC continued to escalate throughout 2012, ultimately coming to a head when the NLRB (National Labor Relations Board) filed a complaint against UPMC in December, citing unfair labor practices in 4 locations. The complaint "alleges that UPMC managers illegally discouraged organizing by surveilling employees and interrogating them about union activities, threatening to fire employees who gave the union contact information for other employees, threatening action against employees who engaged in union activities during work hours or on UPMC property during off-hours and prohibiting the distribution of union material on UPMC property."

Around the same time, another piece of controversy regarding UPMC and its employees appeared. After the union issues came to light, many UPMC employees became more vocal about expressing dissatisfaction with their wages, including a woman named Leslie Poston:

"It was two days before Thanksgiving and my unit director came up, put an arm around me and said 'we've been hearing what you've been saying,'" Poston told City Paper [on December 11, 2012]. "She pulled out a flyer and said, 'We're starting a food bank for the employees."

“I turned my head and started to cry because I was so angry, although she thought I was crying because of the gesture. They just don’t get that I’d rather they pay me a better wage so I wouldn’t have to go to a food bank.”

"I don’t need them to pick out my food for me; I need them to pay me better wage so I can pick out my own food," says Poston. "Also, it’s going to be more demeaning and embarrassing for me because now I have to go and pick up food at a food bank where I work in front of my friends and co-workers. I make it a point to go to food pantries where nobody knows who I am."

UPMC maintains that the idea had nothing to do with the higher wages being demanded by some workers; spokesperson Susan Manko said, "It's unfortunate in this holiday season that no good deed goes unpunished by those promoting other agendas. The food pantry at UPMC Mercy ... has nothing to do with their wages."

Part of what makes UPMC's response so particularly irksome is the history/collective identity of Pittsburgh. Identified and sometimes fetishized ad nauseum as a "blue-collar city" built on the backs of steel workers, much of Pittsburgh thinks of itself as a labor-driven community. This is echoed in the rhetoric employed by "Make it Our UPMC," a community organizing group formed in response to UPMC's union-busting activities. Their "About Us" page evokes this labor history, and accuses UPMC of transgressing that through its behavior:

For decades, the steel industry fueled the middle class in Pittsburgh. Workers in the mills were able to own a home, send their children to college and retire comfortably. Our city benefited from a stable tax base, built good schools and a robust transit system, and provided other quality public services.

But today, the middle class is out of reach for many Pittsburghers and budget cuts are laying off teachers and eliminating bus lines.

One does not need to look further than UPMC to see why this is happening. UPMC is our largest employer and health system, employing nearly 55,000 people. Unlike the union steelworkers of the past however, many UPMC workers struggle to provide for their families on wages as low as $10 and $12/hour.

At the same time, UPMC executives use the health system’s non-profit status to pay very little in local taxes compared to its $700 million annual profit, and over 1.3 billion dollars in land holdings in Allegheny County. If UPMC paid its fair share, we could fully fund our schools and transit systems again and they’d still have plenty of profit left over.

Make it Our UPMC's call to arms echoes the mournfulness over the loss of the charitable & care-driven St. Francis. In both cases, there is a sense that the place that a business-oriented hospital like UPMC occupies in the community is somehow unsatisfactory, and out of touch with expectations for what community benefits they should be providing. The tax issue is also raised here; not only does UPMC fail the group's metric for how Pittsburgh employees should be treated, but it also fails to provide for the community in the way it should. In the group's rhetoric, refusing to pay taxes means directly taking money away from community members that it could have helped, even beyond medical care.

In a January 3rd filing to the NLRB, UPMC claimed that it was technically a corporation but had "no employees." A hearing scheduled for February 5 was postponed for settlement talks, which ended with UPMC settling with the board. The terms included rehiring two employees who had been fired for union activities along with expunging the disciplinary records of some others, providing labor law training for "managers, supervisors, and personnel," and revising some policies on personal correspondence that violated labor laws. UPMC stated that the "settlement terminates an overstated and disruptive collection of allegations."

The Case of UPMC Braddock

In 1996, UPMC merged Braddock Hospital into its network of health care facilities. In late 2009, without warning to the city council, UPMC announced that it would stop accepting patients on January 31, 2010, and would close the facility. They cited falling usage rates as the reasons for shutting down, claiming that since 2004, four out of five patients in Braddock chose other hospitals. After the hospital's closure, residents would be have to travel into the city to obtain emergency medical care. UPMC Braddock's closure also displaced 652 employees. UPMC announced that the employees would be relocated to other hospitals, but as one employee pointed out, they had to go through the application process all over again.

The community response was immediate, organized, and outraged. The lower usage rate was called into question when UPMC's annual reports showed that UPMC Braddock's occupancy rate was over 70%, higher than six other hospitals in Allegheny County. John Brown, the Council president, insisted that the choice was really about profits: ""They're saying it's not a money issue. I say it is," said Mr. Brown. "They're a non-profit, they're making money, but instead of putting that money back into the community where you have low-income people, they're moving into Shadyside and Monroeville and the city of Pittsburgh. They're moving into the affluent suburbs." The Save Braddock group formed quickly to plan actions against UPMC, including a march of people in zombie makeup who held a fake UPMC board meeting. By January 29, a study on the reuse of the building had been carried out, recommending medical reuse.

Braddock residents accused UPMC of pulling out not only because of the city's low income bracket, but also because of its racial makeup. 2009 census data identifies Braddock as 72.9% black. This sparked an investigation by the federal department for Health and Human Services into whether UPMC's closure of the facility was a violation of civil rights (specifically, Title VI), resulting in an agreement that UPMC would provide door-to-door transportation for Braddock residents to its other facilities.

Even after the hospital shut down, Braddock community action against UPMC continued. When the brand-new UPMC East facility was unveiled, Braddock protesters rallied against UPMC's decision to open a brand-new facility in the higher-income suburbs only a few months after UPMC Braddock's closure - "“Romoff, get off it. You’re not a non-profit,” they chanted". And after unsuccessful demands to have UPMC Braddock's building maintained for reuse, as laid out in the redevelopment report, protesters appeared at the building's demolition.

The closure of UPMC Braddock profoundly affected a lower-income working class both within and outside the hospital. One video available on YouTube that documents the Braddock protests begins with a single voice singing, "Don't listen to UPMC / Don't listen to their lies / Us working folks don't have a chance unless we get organized." The song strongly evokes labor unions' calls to arms. And like the case of UPMC's clash with the unions, UPMC's clash with Braddock is wrapped up in space. The movement of UPMC's hospital facilities from Braddock to higher-income neighborhoods like Monroeville, and the subsequent displacement of its employees and Braddock residents leaves Braddock "with an empty hole in the ground."


Real Estate and Taxes

Barcousky, Len. "UPMC tax status contested." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, December 6, 2012.

Deitch, Charlie. "Protesters try to give UPMC its Tax Bill." Pittsburgh City Paper, April 16, 2012.

Deitrick, Sabina and Christopher Briem. "The Impact of Nonprofit, Large Landowners on Public Finance in a Fiscally Distressed Municipality: A Case Study of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania." Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, 2007.

Gaynor, Martin. "Just say no to UPMC: Its 'donation' has too many strings." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, December 24, 2007.

Hamill, Sean D., and Jonathan D. Silver. "Forging a giant footprint: UPMC's sometimes controversial appetite for real estate." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, September 23, 2012.

Harris, Darlene. "UPMC should put civic duty over profit: We're proud of UPMC, but it needs to do more for the city and its citizens." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, October 1, 2012.

Hearing Over UPMC's Tax-Exempt Status Gets Heated. Pittsburgh: KDKA.

Silver, Jonathan D. "UPMC among nonprofits eager to avoid paying property taxes." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, September 26, 2012.

Snowbeck, Christopher. "Preservationists hope UPMC respects history in Baum corridor expansion." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 26, 2006.


Deitch, Charlie. "UPMC opens food bank for struggling employees, misses point completely (UPDATED). Pittsburgh City Paper, December 11, 2012.

Ironic Chef. "My Experience Organizing at UPMC." Daily KOS, June 20, 2012.

Mamula, Kris B. "SEIU: UPMC, labor board settle." Pittsburgh Business Times, February 7, 2013.

Nixon, Alex. "NLRB issues labor complaint against UPMC, union says." TribLive, December 19, 2012.

---. "UPMC reinstates fired workers under NLRB settlement." TribLive, February 7, 2013.

Twedt, Steve. "UPMC nonclinical staff pursue union." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 20, 2012.

---. "UPMC's anti-union efforts have risen, service workers say." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, June 15, 2012.

---. "Food drive irks some UPMC workers." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, December 12, 2012.

UPMC Braddock

"Braddock Hospital Initial Facility Reuse Study." Redevelopment Authority of Allegheny County, January 29, 2010.

Bumsted, Brad. "UPMC Braddock Hospital Closure May Spark U.S. Probe." Tribune-Review, January 25, 2010.

Davidson, Samuel. "Pennsylvania: Braddock hospital closes its doors for good." World Socialist Web Site, January 30, 2010.

"Demolition Begins on Former UPMC Braddock Hospital." WPXI, October 7, 2010.

Hopey, Don. "Scare tactic: Zombies, others protest UPMC Braddock closing." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, December 19, 2009.

"UPMC Braddock Documentary." YouTube, October 15, 2011.

Twedt, Steve. "UPMC to close Braddock hospital." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, October 17, 2009.

---. "UPMC Braddock usage rate disputed." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, October 31, 2009.

"UPMC East Opens Amid Protest." CBS Local, July 2, 2012.

U.S. Department of Health and Services. "UPMC agrees to expand access to care after closure of UPMC Braddock." September 2, 2010.

Community Action Groups

Make it Our UPMC.

Save Braddock.


City Data.

"Land Records." Allegheny County of Pennsylvania Department of Real Estate.

"Real Estate." Allegheny County of Pennsylvania Property Assessment.

General UPMC Information

Children's Hospital: New Beginnings and a Look at the Past. Pittsburgh: WQED.

Mamula, Chris B. "22 UPMC employees top $1 million." Pittsburgh Business Times, May 14, 2012.

Pravlik, Melissa. "UPMC." Pittsburgh Business Times, February 22, 2013.

---. "Top 5: Largest Pittsburgh-area hospital locations/buildings." Pittsburgh Business Times, December 21, 2012.

Rujumba, Karamagi. "County approves $1 billion in bonds for UPMC."Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, December 16, 2009.

"The new Children's Hospital: A user's guide." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 23, 2009.

Twedt, Steve. "St. Francis Health Center estate closes, seven years later." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, June 24, 2009.