The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) has been sorely vexed by the city newspaper, the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, with regard to some of its articles such those addressing the salaries of its executive officers. It thus decided to ban sales of the newspaper in the hospital gift shops (see: UPMC hospitals ban sale of Post-Gazette from their gift shops). Below is an excerpt from the article:
Some UPMC hospitals are banning the Post-Gazette from sale in their gift shops, a move UPMC spokesman Paul Wood said was precipitated by “fairness issues” in the newspaper’s coverage of the health system. At least three UPMC hospitals...[in the system] say they will no longer sell the newspaper.T wice in recent years, UPMC executives have canceled the health giant’s advertising in the PG, citing dissatisfaction with the way UPMC was covered in the news pages and how it was portrayed in editorials and editorial cartoons.....''We believe that our coverage of UPMC has been fair-minded in every respect,'' said David M. Shribman, the newspaper's executive editor. ''Every entity in every town feels aggrieved at some point by what a good newspaper writes. It's part of living in a free society where the exchange of news and information is prized, not punished.'' But health system officials have often criticized stories, editorials, and editorial cartoons published in the Post-Gazette in recent years, most frequently in its coverage of the ongoing contract battle with insurer Highmark and, in years past, about the health giant's real-estate holdings and its business practices.The Post-Gazette also recently published stories about UPMC’s transplant program being placed on probation over its handling of donor organs (see: UPMC put on probation for transplant practices)....
I was not knowledgeable about the UPMC/Pittsburgh Post Gazette controversy regarding real estate (see: UPMC's sometimes controversial appetite for real estate). Here's an excerpt from one of the relevant articles on this subject:
Starting in 1982 in a single building that it didn't own, UPMC over 30 years has acquired and expanded most of the major hospitals in the region, built or purchased a network of 13 senior communities and hundreds of cancer treatment centers, rehabilitation and outpatient clinics and doctors' offices. The result is that UPMC is now Allegheny County's single largest private property owner in terms of the value of that property....with 656 acres worth $1.6 billion based on the 2002 assessment, 86 percent of it exempt from taxes, according to a six-month review by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. No other charitable organization comes close, with the University of Pittsburgh a distant second with $1 billion in property. UPMC now owns 8 percent of Allegheny County's $16.67 billion of tax-exempt land. As a purely public charity, it avoids paying a combined $42 million in property taxes in Allegheny County to municipalities, schools and the county.
Put all of this kerfuffle in the context of the city of Pittsburgh challenging the non-profit status of UPMC (see: Pittsburgh lawsuit challenges UPMC's tax status). The lawsuit was dropped by the city, partly because of its "budget-busting" implications (see: Peduto says city dropped UPMC lawsuit to help nonprofit payment talks). Here's a quote from the article:
It's hard to say whether or not the city or UPMC could have won the lawsuit and won the inevitable appeal,” said John Burkoff, a University of Pittsburgh law professor. “One thing that everyone would agree on is it would take years, and it would take a lot of money to fight a lawsuit like this. This certainly seems like a sensible strategic decision to me.” [Pittsburgh Mayor] Peduto and Pittsburgh's state-appointed financial overseers have said an agreement with nonprofits is critical for the city to close a $60 million gap between its revenue and its capital needs.
The bottom line for me is that some mega health systems like UPMC, an essential component of "big medicine," seem to no longer care much about how they are perceived in their home cities by local government or media (see: The Institutionalization of Healthcare; Consequences of Big Medicine?; Physician Private Practice Declines; the Last Barrier to Emergence of "Big Medicine"; The Transition to "Big Med": Need for Emphasis on Standardization and Cost). This is characteristic behavior for monopolies. It's only the "profits" for some of the non-profit hospitals that really count.