JC Blair, Blair Medical air ill feelings

There’s bad blood brewing between J.C. Blair Memorial Hospital in Huntingdon and Blair Medical Associates of Altoona.

According to the hospital, the doctor group failed to fulfill a contract obligation to provide an oncologist in Huntingdon starting in 2010, while also failing to comply with a recent demand to leave its space on hospital property, based on expiration of the lease in mid-2013.

According to Blair Medical, the lack of an oncologist was unfortunate, but an oncologist wasn’t required by contract, while the property lease runs until July.

The hospital could take legal action to oust Blair Medical, but an eviction would take until June, so it would be largely moot, according to J.C. Blair CEO Lisa Mallon.

Moreover, “that’s not what we’re about,” she said. “We’re going to take the high road – we’ll just have to sit and wait for them to go.”

Still, the doctor group’s refusal to leave will delay preparation of that space for an Altoona cardiology group and for other specialists being brought in by Pinnacle HealthCare of Harrisburg, with which J.C. Blair recently signed an affiliation agreement, according to Mallon.

Blair Medical has a valid lease and plans to occupy the space on the hospital property until the lease expires, said Dave Cuzzolina, spokesman for the doctor group through UPMC Altoona.

“We feel that patients there need and want our services,” Cuzzolina said. “They want to see doctors they’ve known and trusted.”

After the lease expires, the doctor group plans tentatively to move to a building on Route 22 in the Huntingdon area that is already the site for a Home Nursing Agency office and a primary care practice, both owned by UPMC Altoona, according to Cuzzolina.

Blair Medical would have liked to provide the medical oncologist after J.C. Blair obtained a chemotherapy hood and needed a specialist to operate it, Cuzzolina said.

But the group couldn’t, because it had lost an oncologist from its staff and the remaining members were “stretched thin to cover what’s needed here,” he said.

Cuzzolina dismissed allegations that the group has been sending patients to Altoona that could have been handled in Huntingdon.

According to Mallon, the three-year property lease with Blair Medical did not extend automatically.

That is “clear-cut,” she said.

Mallon had discussed extending that agreement last year with Blair Medical, asking if the group wanted to renew long-term, but Blair Medical told her that it would need to move out if ordered by UPMC, the parent organization, she said.

“That’s sort of where it broke down,” Mallon said.

After that breakdown of negotiations, J.C. Blair gave the doctor group 60 days notice at the end of January, which is plenty of time, she said.

The service contract under dispute required Blair Medical to provide an oncologist for eight hours one day a week, then, starting at the beginning of 2011, two days a week, Mallon said.

The hospital prefers to offer as many specialist services as possible in Huntingdon so patients don’t need to leave town, she said.

But the Blair Medical oncologist never came, and its “multi-specialty contract” with the hospital expired in June 2013, she said.

“We had sort of given up on them,” by then, she said. “We knew we had to get other doctors.”

For now, the attorneys for both sides are talking to each other, Cuzzolina said.

“It seems whichever way you look at it, it’s not quite fair to our community,” Mallon said.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.