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Latrobe wants Excela Health to build planned outpatient care center in city, not Unity

| Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

Latrobe leaders want to meet with Excela Health executives to try to persuade the health system to consider building its planned outpatient care center in the city rather than in Unity Township.

“I think they are just going entrepreneurial, and they are making decisions that are not going to help the city,” Latrobe Deputy Mayor Kenneth Baldonieri said.

Baldonieri said he talked with Excela Health Chief Executive Officer Robert Rogalski recently about the health system's plans.

“I tried to appeal to his sense of community to put the (medical) mall in town. We have to make one final appeal to their sense of community,” Baldonieri said last week.

Councilwoman Rosie Wolford said she was disappointed as well with what she called Excela's “loss of a sense of community.”

Baldonieri said Rogalski promised him that Excela Health officials would meet with Latrobe officials to discuss the outpatient care facility Excela wants to build along Route 30, near Arnold Palmer Motors. Mayor Barbara Griffin said she also favored a meeting with Excela officials.

“I've yet to hear from him,” Baldonieri said about Rogalski.

Latrobe officials could have spoken to Douglas Dascenzo, vice president of patient care services at Excela Latrobe Hospital, at a Jan. 12 strategic planning summit the city of Latrobe and the Latrobe Community Revitalization Program conducted, said Jennifer Miele, Excela Health spokeswoman.

Rogalski did talk with James Okonak, vice president of the Latrobe Foundation, Miele said.

“We're in constant communications” with the community, Miele said.

Even if Excela Health executives meet with Latrobe officials, efforts to get the health system to reconsider its plans to build the outpatient center in Latrobe may be too late.

Excela Health considered using property in Latrobe but determined that the sites were not feasible for what it wanted to build, Miele said. The hospital's property is “landlocked” and would be costly to renovate existing buildings to meet the needs for its care center, she said.

Ronald Weimer, former chairman of the Latrobe Community Revitalization Program, suggested contacting Lehigh Specialty Metals Inc. to see if it's interested in selling its vacant property along Ligonier Street for an outpatient care facility.

Excela, meanwhile, is moving ahead with plans it presented last year to the Unity Township Planning Commission. The system is proposing to build a three-story, 100,000-square-foot building on a 29-acre site. Excela revised those plans in January and will have to return to the planning commission in February for additional review.

Excela is planning to consolidate about 20 offices of health care providers in the Latrobe-Unity-Derry area under one roof in the Latrobe Ambulatory Care Center. Patients would be able to see their physician as well as specialists.

Excela Vice President Michael Busch has said the health system would like to begin construction in April and have the new facility completed by mid-2014.

While Excela plans to consolidate medical services at the proposed facility in Unity, it is not moving health care services out of Excela Latrobe Hospital, Miele said.

“There are no doctors leaving the hospital,” Miele said.

More patients will use the outpatient care center, which will combine a variety of health care services, she said.

“This is stabilizing the future of Latrobe Hospital,” Miele said.

Excela also is considering building a similar outpatient care center outside of its Westmoreland Hospital in Greensburg. The system has considered a site off Route 30, east of Greensburg.

Latrobe city manager Alex Graziani said the community is not looking to hurt Excela's business model, but he wants to see if the city can work out an option for the health system to have the necessary space and parking in Latrobe for its care center.

If medical offices are moved out of Latrobe to Unity, facilities will become vacant, and that will hurt Latrobe's real estate values, said Councilman Richard Jim.

“It will hit us like we've never been hit before. Professionals, like physicians, are the lifeblood of the community,” Baldonieri said.

Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-5252 or jnapsha@tribweb.com.

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