Mayor of Washington endorses Washington Health System, UPMC merger

The mayor of Washington is urging the community to get on board with a pending merger between Washington Health System and UPMC. Mayor JoJo Burgess says as a union worker himself, he gathered a ton of information before coming to that decision.

“I truly believe this merger is good, not just for the city of Washington, but all of southwestern PA and taking care of rural southwestern PA,” Mayor Burgess said.

Washington Health System says it’s on track to lose millions of dollars this year and even more next year. President and CEO Brook Ward says they might no longer exist if a change isn’t made. He says a merger is the best decision to preserve patient care for the region while saving thousands of local healthcare jobs.

“We have 250,000 people in our county, 30,000 people in Greene County that would go without healthcare,” Ward said. “2,700 people would lose their jobs.”

If the deal is approved by the state Attorney General’s office and on the federal level, UPMC will invest $300 million over 10 years. That’s part of an agreement the WHS board approved in June.

While the people we talked to in Washington are on board, not everyone is.  Marisa Petro is a Certified Central Service Technician at Washington Hospital.  She’s also the Vice President of SEIU, the Service Employees International Union, at Washington Hospital.

“Honestly, I’m feeling very scared and apprehensive,” Marisa Petro tells Channel 11.  “Prices will go up for healthcare and I don’t think many people here in Washington will be able to afford that. That’s very concerning.”

Petro said this is personal for her. She’s worked for Washington Health System for going on 23 years. Her husband also works for WHS. She’s also concerned about nurse-to-patient ratios, saying nurses are already run ragged. Then there’s the SEIU union contract. Petro says it’s up next January and she fears UPMC will not honor that contract. She says union employees feel uncertain about paid time off, health insurance and wages.

The President and CEO of Washington Health System says he can reassure union employees, this deal is the best option for everyone.

“It’s a 10-year, definitive agreement that basically includes securing all healthcare services for the next 10 years, every employee who works for us today, union or non-union is guaranteed a job,” Ward said. “No one is taking a cut in pay or benefits.”

On the state level, the Attorney General’s office has to approve the merger. Federally, the FTC must also give the green light before a final decision is made.

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