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Excela Health expanding on its success

Jeff Himler
| Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017, 9:00 p.m.
Frank Koontz (left) and Brian Ritenour of Easley Rivers Construction place a top track for wall studs on the second floor of Excela Square at Latrobe in Unity Township, Pa., on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Frank Koontz (left) and Brian Ritenour of Easley Rivers Construction place a top track for wall studs on the second floor of Excela Square at Latrobe in Unity Township, Pa., on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017.
From left, Robert McCusker, project manager, Dan Robinson, director of facilities, and Jeff Feret, construction manager, talk on the roof of the new Excela Square at Latrobe in Unity Township, Pa., on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
From left, Robert McCusker, project manager, Dan Robinson, director of facilities, and Jeff Feret, construction manager, talk on the roof of the new Excela Square at Latrobe in Unity Township, Pa., on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017.
Excela Square at Latrobe in Unity Township, Pa., on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Excela Square at Latrobe in Unity Township, Pa., on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017.

Excela Health is on track to complete construction of its Excela Square at Latrobe ambulatory care center by November.

The three-story, 115,000-square-foot facility in Unity will offer patients a one-stop source for health care and is expected to help Excela recruit physicians and boost use of its nearby Latrobe Hospital.

“Our overall concept strategically is that Latrobe Hospital will become much busier as a result of our ambulatory development,” said Mike Busch, executive vice president and chief operating officer.

The one-stop “medical mall” format for delivering outpatient care that Excela first introduced in North Huntingdon with Excela Square at Norwin provided the model for the Unity center and for $12 million in improvements the health care provider is making at Frick Hospital in Mt. Pleasant.

The Latrobe and Norwin centers are meant to allow better coordination of care by placing primary care physicians, specialists and lab and therapy services under one roof — a convenience for doctors as well as for patients.

“What we've experienced at Norwin is a primary care doctor will see you in the office, he'll notice something in the EKG, and he or she can walk down the hallway and ask the cardiologist to come over,” Busch said. “We expect the same thing to happen at Latrobe and Frick.

“We anticipate there are going to be more people who choose Excela for care as a result of the experiences they're going to have in these settings and the physicians who are going to take care of them,” he said.

By investing in the new ambulatory facilities, Busch said, Excela hopes to attract to its three hospitals — in Latrobe, Mt. Pleasant and Westmoreland Hospital in Greensburg — some patients who are turning to other regional providers. He said Latrobe Hospital, which has 113 beds and is licensed for up to 172, admits about 6,600 patients annually but loses another 3,000 to other medical facilities.

“For most of those services, we have a tremendous capability to take care of people,” he said.

Excela broke ground in May for the Unity center, located off Route 30 between the Mountain Laurel and Wildcat Commons shopping plazas. With the building's steel skeleton wrapped in plastic against the winter weather, contractor A. Martini and Co. is completing infrastructure, including elevators and stairwells. Framing, drywall installation and electrical work will follow.

The first floor will house the therapy and diagnostic lab services that will be used most frequently by patients, while the second floor will provide space for primary care and specialist physicians. The third floor will offer a central space for Latrobe Hospital's Family Medicine Residency program, which has provided training over four decades for nearly 200 primary care doctors, with 60 of them staying to establish practices in Westmoreland County.

“We feel strongly that this project will help us to not only recruit the best residents but to retain them” when they complete the three-year program, Busch said. “It's competitive to get the best residents coming out of medical school. That's going to be vital for our community as the baby boomer physicians retire.”

According to Busch, about 200 people will be needed to staff Excela Square at Latrobe, but he couldn't say how many of those will be new hires rather than staff shifting from other sites.

Among Excela services that will move to the Unity center are family medicine practices and outpatient physical therapy services at Latrobe Hospital and at Mountain View, located farther west along Route 30 in Unity. The new building will house obstetrics and gynecology services, including a clinic now across the street from Latrobe Hospital, as well as a cafe and wound care and occupational therapy services — all new to the Latrobe area.

Busch expects the Unity center to come in under an initial $40 million budget. He said Excela continues to seek funding for the project while a $5 million lead gift from the Richard King Mellon Foundation, targeted for the residency program, has brought the Latrobe Area Hospital Charitable Foundation's campaign for the building within $1 million of its $12 million fundraising goal.

Of all the Westmoreland hospitals, space is most flexible at Latrobe, which Busch said is poised to be Excela's “expansion hub” in coming years. He said plans there are fluid but could include expanded clinical services and updated inpatient units.

At Frick, a cafe recently opened. Other upgrades there, to outpatient areas, cardiology services and the front lobby, are slated for completion in August. A later phase will focus on developing primary care facilities at the hospital.

Planning is under way for a center for orthopedic services in Hempfield, dubbed the Orthoplex. In 2014, Excela was awarded a $3 million state grant for that project.

Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-6622 or jhimler@tribweb.com.

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