Excela to build medical malls in Hempfield, Unity and Ligonier

| Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2012, 12:20 p.m.

Excela Health will debut an aggressive expansion of its health care system into Hempfield, Unity and Ligonier to improve patient care and consolidate services, officials announced Wednesday.

Michael Busch, chief operating officer, said Excela will build a medical mall at an undetermined site in Hempfield, another along Route 30 in Unity, and a third, smaller clinic adjacent to the Ligonier Valley YMCA in Ligonier.

The health system operates hospitals in Greensburg, Latrobe and Mt. Pleasant.

Busch said the expansion is designed to improve patient care and consolidate the system's far-flung offices, clinics and labs around Westmoreland County. Officials hope to open the Unity facility in mid-2014.

Busch said Excela is looking at a site behind Greengate Centre in Hempfield and several other locations in the township.

In Unity, plans are to build a mall on a 27-acre site behind Arnold Palmer's auto dealership. Excela will present its plans to the Unity Planning Commission next month, he said.

The planned Ligonier facility will connect to the YMCA, said Director Ben Wright. Busch said it will be smaller than the Hempfield and Unity buildings.

Services at the facilities will be similar to those offered at a medical mall in North Huntingdon. Excela operates smaller medical clinics in the Mountain View area of Unity and at Blairsville Medical Park in Indiana County.

In June, the system opened Excela Square at Norwin in the former Norwin Hills Shopping Center. The center employs 100 people and houses family physicians and specialists as well as facilities for outpatient surgery, blood work, imaging, cardiac rehabilitation and physical therapy.

In the Latrobe area alone, Excela has 22 locations housing offices and physician practices, all linked electronically, but there is no coordination of care. Under the reorganization, the new facilities will give patients one-stop services.

“A doctor can walk down the hall and grab a cardiologist and say. ‘I've got an abnormal EKG. Can you come down and look at it?,'” Busch said.

Though the new facilities will duplicate some services offered at hospitals, Busch said, the malls will not affect Excela's three hospitals.

“This is not going to have much of an impact on our hospitals at all,” he said. “We need more space at Westmoreland. We have capacity issues (there) right now.”

Excela opened the North Huntingdon facility to counter moves in the western end of Westmoreland County by UPMC and Highmark, which have expanded their presence in the Monroeville area. At the time, the two entities were awaiting state approval for a merger with West Penn Allegheny Health System. The two sides have since called off talks.

Highmark spent $20 million to upgrade Forbes Regional Hospital while UPMC opened a $250 million hospital along Route 22.

Busch said the exact cost of the project hasn't been determined.

“We're still evaluating the finances. We're not done with that yet,” he said.

Excela paid nearly $20 million to purchase the Norwin Hills Shopping Center. That figure does not include renovation costs.

Hospital systems in Pennsylvania, facing declining reimbursements for inpatient care, are turning to outpatient treatment to generate revenue. The average number of days patients stayed in the hospital has steadily decreased since 1999, according to the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council.

Westmoreland, Latrobe and Frick hospitals had 23,806 admissions in the 2010-11 fiscal year totaling 105,601 patient days, according to the state Health Department. That's down from 24,109 the previous year, records show.

Excela ended the past fiscal year with an operating margin of $3.4 million. Busch said the system has an A rating with Moody's Investors rating service and has the ability to borrow money, if needed. “We're not concerned about that,” Busch said. “We believe these investments will pay for themselves.”

Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6292 or at rgazarik@tribweb.com.

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