How Karen Hacker worked to resuscitate the Allegheny County Health Department

Hacker, the county’s highest paid employee with a salary of more than $220,000, said she thinks she should be judged on the progress she’s helped to usher in, including reduced lead poisoning in children, fewer opioid overdose deaths and a steady decline in air pollution that is on the verge of coming into compliance with the law.

But a number of constraints made the work difficult.

UPMC Mercy Hospital. (Photo by Jay Manning/ PublicSource)

UPMC Mercy expansion: How the ‘community benefits agreement’ between UPMC and the city came to be

Last spring, Louis Berry III was feeling mildly optimistic. As a labor activist and retired housekeeper with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center [UPMC], he felt for the first time in April 2018 that he and activists might be able to get some concessions from his former employer. In Berry’s mind, he said, the not-for-profit hospital chain and healthcare provider is a behemoth that pays some of its employees too little and causes others to go into medical debt. Last spring, Berry thought he had reason to be hopeful: UPMC needed city approval to build a state-of-the-art hospital in Pittsburgh’s Uptown neighborhood. Some activists weren’t opposed to the new facility but when the city’s Planning Commission made a recommendation that UPMC work on establishing a community benefits agreement [CBA] with the city, Berry and others saw it as an opportunity to demand and negotiate concessions.

Public defender Lisa Middleman announces campaign to challenge District Attorney Stephen Zappala

Lisa Gaye Middleman, an Allegheny County public defender, announced that she is launching her campaign for District Attorney today. Middleman, who is running as an independent, will face 20-year incumbent Stephen A. Zappala Jr. in the November 5 general election. Her campaign launch comes after another challenger, Turahn Jenkins, trailed Zappala by 20,357 votes in May’s Democratic primary election. Middleman estimates that she’ll need to gather nearly 4,000 signatures on her petition before Aug. 1 to appear on the November ballot but plans to collect well above that amount.

A tale of two fires: Allegheny County health officials change approach after second fire at U.S. Steel’s Clairton plant

After a Dec. 24 fire at U.S. Steel’s Clairton Coke Works, Allegheny County Health Department officials discussed internally how to respond. The department considered issuing an emergency order to require U.S. Steel to take steps to reduce its emissions, email records show. Officials went as far as drafting such an order, they said. But they didn’t issue it because the company was already voluntarily taking many of the steps the county believed would keep residents safe.

Many Pittsburgh-area plastics end up in landfills or the environment. Is recycling a solution or only a patch?

Pittsburgh has its own floating garbage patch. Behind a mooring cell for coal barges, some 400 feet upstream from the Hot Metal Bridge, a soaked mass of debris hugs the northern bank of the Monongahela River. It’s made up of tree branches, tires and a variety of discarded plastic products: water bottles, soccer and basketballs, sneakers, mangled pieces of polystyrene foam, cups, shopping bags and eating utensils. The patch is one destination for plastics in the Pittsburgh region. Other plastics are bound for recycling plants, where in many cases they’re shipped to landfills because they are either too dirty or are one of many types of plastics not recycled locally.