Excela to turn Frick hospital into medical mall, expand specialty care

| Friday, June 13, 2014, 11:39 a.m.

Excela Health officials put to rest rumors about the demise of Excela Frick Hospital in Mt. Pleasant with an announcement on Friday that they will spend $12 million to transform the facility into a medical mall.

In announcing the plan, Excela executives said none of the hospital's more than 400 jobs will be lost during the five years it will take to convert Frick into a new facility modeled after the system's successful Excela Square at Norwin, an 87,000-square-foot operation in North Huntingdon.

The Mt. Pleasant complex will offer patients specialty medical offices, diagnostic and testing services, a same-day surgery center, outpatient physical therapy, an expanded emergency department and some inpatient rooms, all under one roof.

The number of inpatient beds at the hospital has been gradually reduced in recent years from as many as 100 to 33. That number will remain unchanged.

Mt. Pleasant's mayor expressed relief at the announcement, saying it puts to rest rumors about the fate of the hospital, named after industrialist and coal baron H.C. Frick and a fixture in the community since 1902.

“It's good news in the fact that Frick is not closing and still has capacity for patient care,” said Mayor Gerald Lucia. “It is our largest employer, and we want to work side by side with them.”

Excela is the third-largest health system in Western Pennsylvania — with hospitals in Greensburg, Latrobe and Mt. Pleasant — and employs 4,600.

Excela Frick has a 48 percent market share in the southern end of Westmoreland and northern Fayette County since Highlands Hospital in Connellsville specializes mainly in mental health care, said Ron Ott, senior vice president for Excela Health.

Patricia J. Raffaele, vice president of the Hospital Council of Western Pennsylvania, said medical malls are becoming popular in this region and elsewhere as a way of centralizing services, taking advantage of new insurance reimbursement models and competing in crowded health care markets.

“We don't have any numbers on the amount of medical malls but, yes, it is a growing trend for hospitals to have medical malls,” she said.

In 2012, Highmark began construction of a $100 million, 174,000-square-foot Wexford Medical Mall, set to open in September. In January, UPMC announced it was building a 23,000-square-foot facility in Pine in the North Hills, less than one mile from Wexford Medical Mall.

“This is probably the largest economic development Mt. Pleasant has seen in more than a decade,” said Jen Miele, Excela vice president of marketing and communications, about the community of 4,400 that has been stung by the loss of local glass-making jobs and the shutdown of the nearby Sony Corp. plant in 2010.

Mike Busch, Excela's executive vice president and chief operating officer, said the reason for the change is in the numbers.

Last year, Frick had 125,000 outpatient visits accounting for 70 percent of the hospital's revenue, Busch said.

Busch said between 13 to 15 percent of those in Frick's service area do not have a primary care physician, and the first contact they have with a doctor is in the hospital's emergency room.

He said the idea of having a variety of medical specialities under one roof enhances collaboration between doctors. A patient can visit his primary care physician, and if he needs to see a cardiologist, he can see the specialist the same day in the same building. Electronic medical records will make communication between doctors easier and prevent a second physician from asking the same questions asked by the primary care doctor.

As part of the five-year project, Excela will:

• Expand and move the Arnold Palmer Cancer Pavilion's oncology practice on Bessemer Road in East Huntingdon to the Frick facility.

• Spend $375,000 to create advanced wound care and sleep centers.

• Spend $2 million to enhance its emergency department during Phase 1, set to begin shortly.

• Focus all inpatient care on the third floor, which has undergone a $2.6 million renovation.

• Convert a portion of the second floor to a high-tech educational facility for staff at a cost of $325,000.

• Build a new entrance with an expanded lobby rotunda, modern cafe and enhanced primary care physician office suites during Phase II, set to begin within a year.

Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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