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Highmark Health, Allegheny Health Network to invest $200 million in cancer care

| Tuesday, June 13, 2017, 10:57 a.m.
Allegheny General Hospital, part of Allegheny Health Network, in Pittsburgh's North Side.
Allegheny General Hospital, part of Allegheny Health Network, in Pittsburgh's North Side.

Allegheny Health Network is building an academic cancer center with a hub at Allegheny General Hospital and a half-dozen satellite facilities across Western Pennsylvania as part of an expanding partnership with Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Highmark Health, AHN's parent company, plans to invest $200 million to build the centers over the next two years, Highmark CEO David Holmberg said Tuesday.

The health system plans to locate the cancer center's hub next to Allegheny General Hospital's main entrance and is evaluating locations for four to 10 satellite facilities, Holm­berg said.

Johns Hopkins will become Highmark's “preferred referral partner” for treatment outside Western Pennsylvania, and Highmark will expand referrals to the Baltimore-based system for patients with rare and complex adult and pediatric cancers, the executives said. Highmark patients will gain more access to Johns Hopkins' clinical trials, they said.

Under the time frame Holmberg announced, the cancer center would be finished about the time Highmark patients will lose access to cancer treatment from UPMC under a state-brokered consent decree.

The decree, meant to protect patients as the rival health systems unwind business relationships with one another, preserves Highmark members' access through June 2019 to UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, which has its own academic affiliation with the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and has more than 50 satellite centers.

Highmark has invested $1 billion in Allegheny Health Network since forming the seven-hospital system that competes with UPMC in 2013, Holmberg said.

“One of the things that we heard from the community when we took on this journey was that they were concerned about access to care and access was being denied by others,” he said. “And we're here to tell you that that's not OK.”

The cancer center expands a relationship between AHN and Johns Hopkins Medicine that presently includes medical second opinions, genetic testing that is used in cancer immunotherapy and a referral collaboration for bone marrow transplantation for lung and pediatric patients. The partnership covers patients in West Virginia and Delaware in addition to Western Pennsylvania.

The officials said the cancer center would bring 175 jobs to Western Pennsylvania.

Dr. Paul Rothman, CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine, said collaboration is increasingly important as the science of cancer treatment rapidly advances. Highmark collaborates with Johns Hopkins through a Cancer Collaborative program that ties hospitals in Highmark's networks to a national database regularly updated with the latest treatments by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network.

“There's no field of medicine that I think is changing more rapidly,” Rothman said of cancer treatment.

Wes Venteicher is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5676, or via Twitter @wesventeicher.

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