Pittsburgh: National Capital of Concussion Inc. – And Proud of It!

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February 29, 2012

Yesterday I caustically analyzed the latest hype artistry from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Sports Medicine Concussion Program – courtesy of director Micky Collins, director emeritus Mark Lovell, and senior witch doctor Joseph Maroon. Remarkably, all three of these busy worthies have also found time over the years to spin their biased, conflicted, poorly controlled, and irresponsibly extrapolated studies for the National Football League’s veritable house organ, Neurosurgery, into support of their proprietary and for-profit product, ImPACT.

Or rather … please excuse me, UPMC flacks … ImPACT™.

Profits from our bursting-at-the-seams health-care system are the UPMC way – as I recount, ungenerously, in my recently published ebook UPMC: Concussion Scandal Ground Zero. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review discussed the same phenomenon, with more admiration, in a story this Sunday:

Health care is booming business in  Western Pennsylvania .

The industry’s impact in the region last year was  $15.8 billion, and health care employed more than 112,000 workers, according to a report published by the Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania . The number represented 10.5 percent of the total workforce in Allegheny, Westmoreland, Washington, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Armstrong and Green counties.

Health care continues to dominate the local landscape as UPMC  and West Penn Allegheny Health System , the two largest providers, fight for patients and insurance customers in the region.

Highmark Inc. , the region’s largest insurer, has proposed acquiring West Penn Allegheny for $475 million. Because of that merger, UPMC  intends to terminate agreements between its doctors and  Highmark.

The Tribune-Review article, at http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/business/s_779870.html, said UPMC owns 19 hospitals and had 2011 operating revenue of $9 billion – up from $8 billion in 2010. “The system employed 54,000 people in Western Pennsylvania, including more than 5,000 physicians. Its hospitals admitted and observed more than 234,000 patients. CEO Jeffrey A. Romoff earned $4 million 2009, according to public tax disclosures.”

The part about the UPMC turf war with West Penn Allegheny Health caught my eye. In 1999 Dr. Maroon made regional business news when he and his celebrity-studded practice at Allegheny General Hospital – West Penn Allegheny Health’s flagship – jumped to UPMC.

As it happens, last October I was contacted by Dr. Jack Wilberger, the neurosurgery chair at Allegheny General and a vice president of West Penn Allegheny Health. “Our Concussion Center is becoming more robust as more and more realize the issues you describe,” Wilberger told me. I have since noticed that Wilberger occasionally lands a dissenting quote in the Pittsburgh press coverage of UPMC’s management of hockey star Sidney Crosby’s long recovery from a series of concussions.

None of this should be taken as an endorsement of Jack Wilberger; I don’t know Jack Wilberger from Jack. But “health care is booming business in Western Pennsylvania.” That much I know.

Which is why I urge the Heinz History Center’s Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum to re-book its glorious “Sports Concussion Town Huddle,” which was scheduled for last November 1 but then scrapped. (I don’t dare suggest that the critical commentary from this and other quarters had anything to do with the last-minute problem the museum encountered gathering Maroon and other UPMC-friendly gurus!)

When I show up for the event, I’ll even do as the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum’s announcement had urged, and wear the team colors of my high school: Parkway Central in Chesterfield (St. Louis County), Missouri.


Irv Muchnick

Concussion Inc.’s ebook UPMC: Concussion Scandal Ground Zero is available on Amazon Kindle at http://amzn.to/A0Hq2g, or as a PDF file by sending $1.49 via PayPal to paypal@muchnick.net.

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