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Highmark lays out 'medical mall' plan

| Friday, Sept. 21, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Highmark Inc. would build Western Pennsylvania's first “medical mall” on vacant land along busy Perry Highway in Pine and an ambulatory surgery center in Monroeville, if municipal leaders approve site plans.

Highmark spokesman Aaron Billger said on Thursday the insurer would wait until it secures necessary permits before explaining its plans. In paperwork filed under its shell companies, Osiris Properties LLC and Optimus 28 Management LLC, and its architecture firm, Downtown-based Astorino, the insurer detailed ideas for planners in Pine and Monroeville.

The proposed Wexford Medical Mall would offer patients a pharmacy, urgent-care center, cancer treatment suite, family-practice offices, a surgery center, a health food store and other medical services, and health care-related retailers under one roof, according to documents submitted last week to Pine's planning department.

“The objective is to look at consumers, the care trend and where they seek care. The outpatient setting is where many patients are getting their care,” Billger said. “We've long said that we're going to be looking at venues to keep in the community.”

Highmark in January proposed building medical malls and outpatient centers as part of its plan to create a $1 billion health system to compete with UPMC, the region's dominant health system. The Pine and Monroeville proposals are the first public descriptions of Highmark's plans.

Highmark, the state's largest insurer, spent more than $32 million since last year buying property in Pine, Monroeville, Cranberry, Ross and South Strabane through shell companies. It also intends to acquire West Penn Allegheny Health System, Jefferson Regional Medical Center and private physician practices.

It would build the Wexford Medical Mall at 12121 Perry Highway, a site that Optimus 28 Management bought from North Way Christian Community. The mall could cover 140,000 to 190,000 square feet over two floors.

“We have the available land. It's certainly in accordance with all of our use and zoning requirements.,” said Michael J. Dennehy Jr., chairman of Pine's board of supervisors. “And we consider they would be a good neighbor and, by the way, a taxpaying neighbor as opposed to a lot of UPMC facilities.”

Pine's planners will hold a hearing on the site plan Oct. 8, said Larry Kurpakus, township planning director. Kurpakus said he hasn't talked with Highmark officials about the mall; he dealt with project managers for architectural and engineering firms it hired. They did not discuss the cost of the mall or its opening date, Kurpakus said.

Officials with Astorino could not be reached for comment.

No one mentioned Highmark's name during a Monroeville Planning Commission meeting on Wednesday. Instead, planners referred to a “client” when questioning Astorino architect David Mickey about the ambulatory surgical center and medical offices that Highmark would build along Monroeville Boulevard. The site plan documents list Osiris and Astorino as the applicants.

The commission agreed to recommend that Monroeville Council grant conditional approval of the plan on Oct. 9.

Highmark would renovate a former Syms clothing store at 4121 Monroeville Blvd. for the surgical center and medical offices — less than a half-mile from the new UPMC East hospital and West Penn Allegheny's Forbes Regional Hospital.

At an office park next door, UPMC operates a Children's Hospital express care office and specialty services practice, a UPMC Behavioral Health office and a Magee Womancare Associates imaging center.

“I think any competition is good for the consumer,” said planning commission Chairman Bob Williams.

Highmark would renovate about half of the building in the first of two phases, completing that by mid- to late 2013, said Paul Hugus, Monroeville director of building and engineering. Ambulatory surgery centers offer elective surgeries, such as joint replacements or plastic surgery, not emergency services.

Highmark's companies haven't submitted site plans in Cranberry, Ross or South Strabane.

Tory N. Parrish and Alex Nixon are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Parrish can be reached at 412-380-5662 or tparrish@tribweb.com. Nixon can be reached at 412-320-7928 or anixon@tribweb.com.

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