By Kelsey Shea

Allegheny General Hospital employees, lower Northside businesses and Deutschtown residents breathed a sigh of relief at the end of last month, when an agreement ensured the once uncertain future of AGH’s presence on the Northside.

On April 29, an agreement between the West Penn Allegheny Health System and Highmark was approved by the state and placed all WPAHS hospitals and facilities under the ownership of Highmark.

The new system will be renamed the Allegheny Health Network and will be an integrated health care delivery system that both WPAHS and Highmark hope will act as a competitor to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in the region.

AGH, one of WPAHS’s largest hospitals, is a critical component to the growth and success of the lower Northside.

The hospital is the largest employer in the neighborhood and brings 4,100 employees to Historic Deutschtown each day in addition to nearly 30,000 patients who visit the Northside for care every year.

Twenty percent of AGH employees are also Northside residents.

“It’s all good,” said Mark Fatla, executive director of the Northside Leadership Conference. “This agreement ensures the longevity and health of a large employer and good community partner.”

In addition to the financially struggling WPAHS, which includes five other hospitals in the region, Highmark also acquired ownership of several other health care providers in Western Pennsylvania to create a large health network, comparable to UPMC.

“The Allegheny Health Network will allow the long standing tradition of high quality patient care to continue on the Northside,” said Debra Caplan, vice president of AGH.

“It also means that healthcare choice for consumers and patients in our region is preserved. As the largest employer on the Northside, our organization is secure with our Highmark affiliation. Our future looks bright and there is much excitement about our new relationship,” she said.

Dan Onorato, Highmark’s Chief External Affairs and Communications officer, spoke to a group of Northside business owners the day after the state approved the merger at the North Side North Shore Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

He focused on the positive impact the merger will have on the Northside and promised that Highmark would work to be a good community partner.

“The Northside can rest calmly now that they know the hospital is going to survive,” said Onorato, who noted that AGH is not only an anchor in the Northside, but also a landmark. “AGH will survive as a part of a larger system that will provide competition to UPMC.”

Employees at the hospital celebrated the merger with cake and a new sense of job security on April 30.

In addition to being a large employer in the neighborhood, AGH also maintains a partnership with the Northside Leadership Conference.

AGH and NLSC’s community partnership helps Northsiders find jobs and AGH employees buy homes in the Northside. AGH employees also volunteer in local schools.

“Many thanks to the Northside community for all of their support through this process,” said Caplan.