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Allegheny

Allegheny Health Network eyes McCandless for neighborhood hospital

| Tuesday, April 24, 2018, 11:48 a.m.
A rendering showing what the four neighborhood hospitals proposed by Highmark Health and Allegheny Health Network would look like.
Courtesy of Allegheny Health Network
A rendering showing what the four neighborhood hospitals proposed by Highmark Health and Allegheny Health Network would look like.

Allegheny Health Network is looking to build one of its four new neighborhood hospitals in McCandless, a spokesman said Tuesday.

McCandless Council voted Monday night to consider amending its zoning law to allow the health network to be build a small-format hospital in McCandless Crossing shopping center at the intersection of McKnight Road and Duncan Avenue.

The Allegheny County Planning Department must now review the proposed amendment because the area is not zoned for hospital use, AHN spokesman Doug Braunsdorf said.

“AHN is currently exploring potential site options in the North Hills, including McCandless,” he said.

Once the requested change is reviewed by the county, McCandless must hold a public hearing on the zoning change and then vote for its adoption. If approved, developers will have to submit a site plan that will be subject to council's approval.

The proposed McCandless location is about a mile away from UPMC Passavant campus.

Gregory Walkauskas, vice president of McCandless Council, said he wasn't concerned about the potential close proximity between both hospitals.

“Unless someone brings up a legitimate reason, I see no problem with that,” he said. “We're still in the preliminary stages.”

The hospitals are part of a plan AHN and Highmark Health announced last year to invest $1 billion in new facility construction and expansion and renovation of existing facilities over the next four to five years.

In December, AHN announced that the first of the four hospitals would be built in Hempfield, at Agnew Road and Route 30. Last week, it said it wants to build a hospital in Harmar , on two empty lots at Freeport and Guys Run roads, next to Zone 28, formerly FunFest.

AHN has formed a joint venture with Texas-based Emerus, a developer and operator of neighborhood hospitals.

Seavest Inc., based in New York state, is the building developer working with AHN and Emerus, Braunsdorf said.

Dusty Elias Kirk, a lawyer for Reed Smith who represented Seavest at Monday night's meeting, said it is vital to get the hospital opened by this time next year because of an expiring consent decree between Highmark and UPMC that could limit the availability of health care in the area. The hospital is proposed to be a taxable property.

“It needs to be up and running by May 2019 because of a consent decree that, in effect, will limit a lot of people's access to health care close to where they live,” she said.

The consent decree is a state-brokered deal negotiated after the contract between UPMC and Highmark insurance expired in 2014.

The decree allowed some Highmark customers to continue using UPMC doctors and hospitals until June 2019.

David Goldberg, an attorney for AHN, said the decision to expand in the North Hills is paramount for health care access.

“This is not particularly a business issue; it's also a health access issue for those who have insurance that will be limited to care,” said Goldberg, who lives in the North Hills.

Because of limitations in his health insurance, Goldberg said he and his family have had to travel into Pittsburgh for treatment.

Goldberg said the hospital will have a minimum of 10 in patient beds and an emergency room.

In October, Highmark Health and Allegheny Health Network announced an expansion plan that includes construction of the four neighborhood hospitals, a 160-bed state-of-the-art hospital in Pine and renovation of its existing facilities throughout Western Pennsylvania. The new AHN facilities are expected to add 800 jobs to Western Pennsylvania's health care workforce, officials said at the time of the announcement.

Emerus describes itself on its website as “the nation's first and largest operator of micro-hospitals.” Its facilities typically range from 15,000 to 60,000 square feet and include an emergency department as well as 10 to 12 beds for observation and short stays.

Braunsdorf said AHN hopes to open the new hospitals in 2019. He declined to reveal the potential site of a fourth micro hospital.

Ben Schmitt is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7991, bschmitt@tribweb.com or via Twitter at @Bencschmitt.

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