Rendering of West Penn Hospital new additions. Courtesy of West Penn Hospital

West Penn Hospital has big ideas for the coming decade.

Over the next 10 years, the Bloomfield hospital expects moderate growth, says an institutional master plan submitted to the city’s Planning Commission. Among other proposed building projects, West Penn would build an ambulatory care center and a new garage, enabling it to increase inpatient beds from 360 to 600.

“The aging population in the United States will continue to increase reliance on the health care industry,” the hospital’s plan says. “While advances in medical technology are increasingly shifting treatment from an inpatient to an outpatient environment, providing some alleviation to overcrowding, continued demand for higher acuity inpatient services remains.”

Although the plan prepared with architectural firm IKM isn’t set in stone, it mentions both 10-year and 24-year goals. City planners are scheduled to review it on July 14. The outline includes the results of neighborhood meetings held since 2017 to address topics such as traffic, lighting and pedestrian improvements.

With about 1,000 physicians and 2,000 staff members, West Penn has been part of Bloomfield since 1848, earning widespread recognition for surgery, transplantation, burn care and cardiac care. The hospital annually admits 13,300 patients, holds another 4,800 for observation and records 73,000 outpatient visits. More than 23,000 people utilize its emergency department each year, and doctors perform more than 12,000 surgeries on site.

In the next decade, West Penn hopes to increase its physicians by five percent and its staff by 12 percent, or 215 employees.

The plan to expand ambulatory care services is, in part, to “address the growing need to provide lower-cost health care services for patients with non-emergent or non-acute conditions,” West Penn says. “ … While the specific services are yet undefined, this could include urgent care, diagnostic testing, primary and specialized service offices and ambulatory surgery.”

To decrease the impact of parking on neighborhood streets and preserve parking for residents, West Penn would build a second, 700-space garage. It also needs to modernize its mechanical and electrical utility equipment.

“The goals are to improve energy efficiency, equip the facility with the appropriate systems and minimize the noise leaving the building,” the plan says. “Building further redundancy of critical infrastructure is also a priority.”

Renovations and additions to existing buildings would also support hospital-based educational programming. West Penn has a history of “basic, clinical and translational research that has contributed to finding more effective ways to prevent, diagnose and treat disease,” the plan says, and intends to continue its commitment to academic medicine as a clinical site for students from the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University and Drexel University College of Medicine.

Some renovations would add state-of-the-art medical technology, including telemetry monitoring capabilities, updates to the nurse call system and the addition of negative pressure rooms. Older units that currently are not patient care areas would be brought up to code and modernized.

In the neighborhood, West Penn wants to create a more clearly defined “front door” at Millvale and Liberty avenues, utilizing the aging Mellon Pavilion and the parking garage.

“[West Penn] acknowledges its stewardship over the existing facility and plans to continue upgrading over time to meet modern standards in operational efficiency,” says the plan. “While long-term projections on health care models are in flux, the age and physical condition of the Mellon Pavilion will necessitate treatment in some capacity.” The building may be demolished and replaced, or it will be stripped down to the structure. At the least, its façade would be updated.

IKM says any additions would complement the character of the surrounding neighborhood. West Penn’s parent company, Allegheny Health Network, is committed to sustainable design, IKM notes. That includes using green building materials where possible and taking into consideration the impact of new buildings on a neighborhood, particularly at the street level.

West Penn’s original building is a Classical Revival brick and terra cotta structure along Friendship Avenue. The Mellon Pavilion, a five-story Brutalist brick and concrete building, faces Liberty Avenue. The campus extends to Gross Street, Mathilda Street and S. Millvale Avenue.

“The role WPH plays in the urban landscape differs significantly based on each street bounding or bisecting the campus,” says IKM. “There is no singular or prominent architectural style or ‘front door’ to the campus. Instead, each building is a distinct product of the architectural trends of the time in which it was constructed. The end result is a campus whose primary characteristic is brick and whose urban identity is ‘institution.’”

Sandra Tolliver

Sandra Tolliver is a freelance writer, editor and public relations professional in Upper St. Clair.