An Amazing New Asset for our Community and People with Vision Loss Worldwide

S+S Spring 2023

When José-Alain Sahel, MD arrived in Pittsburgh in July of 2016 to assume the Distinguished Professor and Chair of Ophthalmology role at the University of Pittsburgh and the Eye &Ear Foundation Endowed Chair, there were no plans for a new building to house a Vision Institute. But UPMC leadership saw the opportunity for Dr. Sahel, with his skills and experience as the Founder of the Institute de la Vision in Paris, to create an asset for our community for people with vision loss worldwide.

Patients visiting the UPMC Vision Institute at the new UPMC Mercy Pavilion will have a unique experience. In the vision tower section of the building, everything was designed, chosen, and built intentionally, and it is all dedicated to ophthalmology. The building will also be home to the UPMC Rehabilitation Institute.

The look and feel are distinctive because the building is brand new, significantly updated, and innovative. In addition to various clues to help patients navigate, there is a thoughtful color scheme along with special lighting so people with low vision can adapt. Great thought was put into the navigation design for people with low vision, as well as those who
use a cane, to find their way to their location. The building has a beautiful front entrance where patients can be dropped off, or vehicles can proceed to the attached parking garage. This area is covered and level, not at an incline
like the Eye & Ear Institute.

When you enter the front doors, you will go through the four story glass atrium into the West Lobby, bearing the names of Daniel G. and Carole L. Kamin, thanks to their generous support. Immediately, you will notice the artwork, just one of many commissioned installations throughout the building. The first floor has an expanded optical shop, pharmacy, urgent care, comprehensive ophthalmology, and a grab-and-go food station.

As Ian P. Conner, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology and Director of Glaucoma and Cataract Service, said, “a building is just a building. It is the people and the work done inside that are actually important.” But he pointed out that the Ophthalmology Department outgrew its footprint at the Eye & Ear Institute decades ago. The Department has also grown over the last several years. It is time.

The enhanced clinical space, lab space, and suite of ophthalmology-specific operating rooms with specialized equipment in one place are big draws. Joseph N. Martel, MD, Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology and Vice Chair, Patient Experience and Access, also mentioned the new Institute’s significant role in training future generations of eye surgeons.

A big attraction is the new ophthalmology surgical training center on the fourth floor, which will teach the next generation of surgeons about the latest surgical innovations. This space will be aptly named after E. Ronald Salvitti, MD, one of the Department’s most distinguished graduates and supporters. There are eight surgical operating rooms in the Pavilion, which along with all clinic spaces, have all been thoughtfully designed and planned, thanks to Vishal Jhanji, MD, Professor of Ophthalmology, and Jerome Finkelstein, MD, Clinical Associate Professor of Ophthalmology,
Vice-Chairs of Operations, and other faculty on the planning team. “The surgery center is phenomenal,” Deepinder K. Dhaliwal, MD, LAc, Professor of Ophthalmology and Director of Refractive Surgery and the Cornea Service, described it as dedicated operating rooms to ophthalmology, which is “really important.” Unlike now, where one operating room is used for different types of cases, this one will only be dedicated to ophthalmology. The equipment will be robust and cutting-edge, delivering the best quality care with the newest technology.

The bottom line: “We are going to look at each individual patient and really think about which strategy would be ideal for that particular patient,” Dr. Dhaliwal said. “It’s not one-size-fits-all. It’s a customized approach for every patient, and that is our philosophy.”

All the physicians interviewed mentioned the ample clinic space, which will make their work and patients’ visits easier. Patients will experience a holistic approach to care. The “hurry up and wait” clinic flow will be no longer; patients will basically stay in the same room for the duration of their visit.

Having operating rooms in the same facility as clinics, research, and other multi-use space leads to something else Dr. Conner views as exciting – the ability to partner with surgical commercial partners. There is a long tradition in surgery and ophthalmology, and especially in academics, for some private physicians to partner with industry to make the implants, machines, and equipment they use and to improve upon products and designs. This can be difficult when in 100 different places, Dr. Conner said. “To actually make those partnerships work in a meaningful way, we really have the opportunity to work closely with our industry partners to make better, more efficient surgeries for our patients,” Dr.
Conner said. “We should all expect to see that type of surgical innovation occurring on a daily basis.”

Another feature is that researchers are nearby. There is a collaboration staircase that connects clinicians with scientists. The hope is that this will foster collegiality and collaboration, so the team can deliver a lot of innovative concepts to
restore vision from bench to bedside as soon as possible.

An exciting aspect of the building will be a state-of-the-art conference center on the fourth floor. Just outside the conference center is a lobby called the Fine Foundation Winter Garden, in honor of Milton and Sheila Fine. Doors from the lobby take you to the Bruce and Barbara M. Wiegand Roof Terrace. Thanks to the generous support from the Wiegands, this space will have beautiful gardens and provide outdoor access for faculty, staff, and guests to the conference center.

The building will invite reflection down to the sensory garden and intentional, dynamic artwork. It will provide the uptown community with access to much-needed services and will drive innovation to restore vision for every
cause of vision loss.

“Our goal is to provide the best opportunity to preserve and restore vision to each and everyone, which implies developing cutting edge technologies, keeping a person-centric perspective constantly, and addressing the needs of all in the community and beyond,” said Dr. Sahel.