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Highmark-Jefferson Regional Medical Center deal still intact

| Monday, Oct. 1, 2012, 5:37 a.m.

One Highmark affiliation agreement apparently still is proceeding despite the reported breakdown of another.

“The affiliation agreement entered into between Highmark and Jefferson Regional is independent of any issues between Highmark and West Penn Allegheny Health System,” Jefferson Regional Medical Center officials said Friday in response to West Penn Allegheny's announcement that it is severing ties with Highmark.

“We do not anticipate any change in course as we continue to move forward in obtaining the regulatory approvals needed to finalize our affiliation with Highmark,” the brief statement concluded.

In June, officials at the Jefferson Hills hospital agreed to a strategic partnership with Highmark, the area's largest medical insurance provider, which in return would get 75 percent of the seats on Jefferson's board.

Highmark pledged to give Jefferson's foundation $75 million, spend up to $100 million on upgrades that would include the hospital's emergency room, and assume approximately $200 million in debt and pension obligations.

Ten months earlier, Jefferson CEO John J. Dempster stressed a need for independent hospitals in the Pittsburgh area to not “get caught up in the fight” between Highmark and University of Pittsburgh Medical Center that was aggravated by Highmark's deal with West Penn Allegheny.

“I think our future is still in community care,” Dempster told the 2011 community recognition dinner at Jefferson, an annual event started after the merger of Homestead and St. Joseph's hospitals that led to creation of Jefferson.

At the time Dempster said his hospital would “reach out to the other community hospitals that are still independent,” including St. Clair, Mon Valley and Washington hospitals, and Heritage Valley, Butler and Excela health systems.

At this year's dinner, Dempster defended the Highmark tie, saying the South Hills hospital is strong, but “to remain strong into the future we needed a partner with the same vision.”

Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1967 or pcloonan@tribweb.com.

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