Health manager to open in Columbia

American Healthways' call center could employ 200 within two years

October 15, 2003|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

American Healthways Inc., a Nashville, Tenn.-based provider of disease and care management, said yesterday that it will open a health care call center in Howard County that is expected to bring more than 200 jobs to the region over the next two years.

The publicly traded company, which reported revenue of more than $165 million in fiscal 2003, provides services to more than 800,000 people and the 50,000 physicians who care for them, in all 50 states.

"This is a big deal for us," said Nick Balog, vice president of central operations. "As we looked at our different alternatives, we got very excited about what Maryland had to offer. It's a great market."

The effort to lure American Healthways to the area was a joint project of the Greater Baltimore Alliance, the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development and the Howard County Economic Development Authority.

"When I had interacted with folks across all levels of government and the Greater Baltimore Alliance, I had a real sense that these folks were committed to what they were doing and would be committed to our success," Balog said yesterday. "It was the energy that these folks put forth that made the difference in us coming there and not going somewhere else. They weren't just courting another business."

The Baltimore area was among three on a short list of prospective sites, Balog said. Columbia offered the needed space and parking and is within a desirable commuting area for potential workers, he said.

"Baltimore was in our top five as a market to go to," said Ben R. Leedle, American Healthways' president and chief executive. His company devised a scorecard and conducted a nationwide analysis of markets, he said, adding, "People look to the greater Baltimore area and recognize how elite the education opportunities are there. This has been a target for us, and we couldn't be more excited to see it come to fruition."

American Healthways, the nation's largest disease and care management company, contracts with health plans to improve the health of their customers. Nurses and clinicians at call centers work with people who have chronic conditions to help them better manage their diseases. That saves money for insurers by preventing costly visits to emergency rooms and hospitalizations.

The company reports savings of more than $800 million in the past seven years.

Inconsistent quality of care and big gaps in care, along with rising heath care costs, have fueled a sharp rise in demand for the kinds of services that American Healthways offers, Leedle said.

American Healthways has leased 33,000 square feet at 7055 Samuel Morse Drive in Columbia, where it expects to open in January. Initially it expects to employ 65 people, then expand to more than 200 within the next two years.

Private capital investment for the project is expected to be more than $4 million, with annual payroll estimated at $12 million when the offices are fully staffed. Of the 65 initial jobs, 55 will be held by registered nurses, Balog said. When fully staffed, the company will employ 230 full-time registered nurses in Columbia, he said.

"The fact that they felt confident enough, even with the worldwide shortage of nurses, that they could get the number of qualified nurses they needed in Baltimore, is testimony that we are a highly recognized center of health care and medicine," Ioanna T. Morfessis, president and chief executive of the GBA, said yesterday.

"I think this is just the next wave of how we're going to receive some of our health care in the future, and I'm glad it's happening here in Baltimore."

The Columbia operation is expected to be the second-largest of the company's seven call centers, Balog said.

The other centers are in Nashville, Tenn.; St. Louis; Pittsburgh; Phoenix; Eagan, Minn.; and Kapolei, Hawaii, he said.

Aris Melissaratos, secretary of Maryland's Department of Economic and Business Development, said the company was offered a standard package of incentives, including funds for training. He did not provide specifics.

"This is a very thoughtful company," said Melissaratos, who noted that the company's chief executive was a guest at the Preakness this year. "They've analyzed this area in detail. Given the push I'm making in life sciences leadership, having a company like this that is attempting new methods in health care delivery is a plus to bring other companies here."

A day before yesterday's announcement, Magellan Health Services told its employees that it is moving its corporate headquarters from Columbia to Connecticut. Yesterday Magellan officials said that move would affect a "small minority" of its 400 headquarters employees.

In Fortune magazine's September issue, American Healthways was ranked No. 5 on the annual list of America's 100 Fastest Growing Companies and No. 2 for total return on investment.

The company plans to have a temporary recruitment site set up near its future Columbia home by next week, Balog said. Jobs are expected to be posted on the company's Web site by today, he said.

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