Civil Rights Complaint Filed with US Dept of Justice Over Hospital’s Closing

By Moriah Balingit, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The president of the Braddock Borough Council has filed a complaint with the U.S. Justice Department, claiming that the closure of UPMC Braddock in the poor and predominantly black community is discriminatory.

Council President Jesse Brown filed a complaint last week with the U.S. Department of Justice, requesting an injunction to stop the hospital’s closure because he claims the move violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.

Title VI “prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance,” according to the department’s Web site.

Mr. Brown also forwarded copies of the complaint to U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills, Sen. Arlen Specter and Sen. Bob Casey, asking them to request that the complaint process be expedited.

UPMC officials announced in October that they plan to close the hospital in January.

In the complaint, Mr. Brown stated that “The closure of UPMC Braddock will have a disproportionate or disparate impact or effect upon African-Americans (including myself), which constitutes a violation of Title VI.”

The form contained no further information supporting the claim and Mr. Brown’s attorney, M. Lawrence Shields III, could not be reached yesterday. In the 2000 U.S. Census, 66.5 percent of the 2,912 residents of Braddock identified themselves as African-American.

“What that states is that if there’s some disparity that’s going to be caused by the closing of a facility in a predominantly black community … that’s unacceptable,” Mr. Brown said in an interview.

UPMC spokesman Paul Wood would not comment on the complaint. But he reiterated the hospital’s position that it closed because it was underutilized and added that while the hospital will close, UPMC is trying to move many of its outpatient programs to other locations in Braddock.

Because it deals with health care, the complaint will be handled by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s Office of Civil Rights. The office does not comment on specific cases.

Laval Miller-Wilson, executive director of the Pennsylvania Health Law Project, said he was unfamiliar with how such complaints are handled. But he believes Mr. Brown has a valid argument.

“Given the impact of this hospital closing … I think it’s incumbent on the DOJ or HHS to investigate this,” he said. “I think it’s a very credible claim.”

Leonardo Cuello, a staff attorney with the National Health Law Program, agreed. But he added that he hasn’t heard of anyone successfully suing to keep a hospital open based on Title VI.

Find out more on the campaign to save the hospital here.