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Allegheny Health Network offers glimpse of Pine 'medical mall'

| Saturday, July 19, 2014, 12:01 a.m.
James Knox | Tribune-Review
A group of visitors move down the stairwells of the Allegheny Health Network's Wexford Wellness Pavilion Friday July 18, 2014.
James Knox | Tribune-Review
Bonnie Irvin, vice president of medical mall operations (second from left) leads a group of visitors to the Allegheny Health Network's Wexford Wellness Pavilion on Friday, July 18, 2014.
James Knox | Tribune-Review
David Holmberg, CEO of Highmark welcomes a group of visitors to the Allegheny Health Network's Wexford Wellness Pavilion Friday July 18, 2014.
James Knox | Tribune-Review
David Holmberg, CEO of Highmark (with hands up in ceneter) welcomes a group of visitors to the Allegheny Health Network's Wexford Wellness Pavilion Friday July 18, 2014.
James Knox | Tribune-Review
A group of visitors to the Allegheny Health Network's Wexford Wellness Pavilion Friday July 18, 2014 make their way down the hall.

Banks of floor-to-ceiling windows, a grand piano and “healing garden” for quiet contemplation will greet patients when Allegheny Health Network opens its $100 million Wexford Health and Wellness Pavilion in October.

For all the money the health system poured into outfitting Western Pennsylvania's biggest “medical mall” in Pine, company executives say the three-level center should streamline care — and trim patient bills — by slashing the operating expenses racked up by conventional urban hospitals.

Treating some patients can cost 10 percent to 30 percent less in the emerging out­patient-only complexes that plant doctors in the thick of suburban population centers than in traditional hospitals, according to AHN and its parent company, the Downtown-based insurer Highmark Inc.

“From our perspective, Pittsburgh is the tip of the sword when it comes to health care changes,” said Highmark CEO David Holmberg, welcoming a couple dozen reporters, company leaders, Sen. Pat Toomey and Rep. Keith Rothfus for a facility tour on Friday along Perry Highway.

Holmberg said the center follows health care and insurance trends across the country, shifting select services for easy neighborhood access while emphasizing preventive practices.

To that end, AHN has equipped its Wexford pavilion with a demonstration kitchen where dietitians and cooks will showcase healthy cooking techniques. More than 100 workers will run an outpatient surgery center featuring four operating rooms and 10 pre-operative bays; a cancer treatment and diagnostic center; and a pediatrics department with 12 exam rooms, among other departments.

A walking track and therapy pool will help physical therapy patients, while a women's health center will supply mammograms and a cardiac testing area will offer nuclear cardiology and other services.

The set-up evokes a modest vertical retail mall, with a first-floor information desk and distinct indoor entries for the different departments. A pharmacy, full-service cafe, eye care center and medical resource library have their own spaces.

AHN Executive Vice President David S. Goldberg declined to say how many patients the company expects at the facility.

The number should reach into the thousands, he said.

Some will be new to AHN while others will be rerouted from other AHN facilities, freeing expensive space in conventional hospitals for more acute-care patients, Goldberg said. He said the company is looking at adding more medical malls but would not say where.

Goldberg and Holmberg downplayed any competition with adversary UPMC, which would not comment Friday on the new pavilion.

“We don't view them as a competitor. We view them as a partner in making sure the health of the region is maintained and protected,” Holmberg said.

Highmark has been trying to strengthen the eight AHN hospitals and separate outpatient clinics, including older medical malls in Bethel Park and Peters, as its insurance contract with UPMC expires in December. Many Highmark insurance customers are expected to lose in-network access to UPMC, which sells its own insurance plans.

Medical malls began appearing in Western Pennsylvania about two years ago, with smaller systems such as Greensburg-based Excela Health and Beaver-based Heritage Valley Health System having set up several one-stop health centers. Outpatient visits nationwide climbed 75 percent from 1990 to 2010, while hospital admissions fell 9 percent, according to the American Hospital Association.

Part of the medical mall trend stems from the federal Affordable Care Act, which encourages more health care outside hospitals, said Patricia Raffaele, a vice president at the Hospital Council of Western Pennsylvania.

“They're really driven by the idea that health care can be delivered within a community,” Raffaele said. She said the approach can make care easier for patients and doctors by clustering lab tests, MRI scans and other related procedures under one roof.

“We're probably going to see more of these in the future,” Raffaele said.

Adam Smeltz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5676 or asmeltz@tribweb.com.

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