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Blair Gastroenterology expanding

Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski / An 1,800-square-foot addition is under construction at Blair Gastroenterology Associates, 810 Valley View Blvd.

Blair Gastroenterology Associates is expanding and expects to continue to grow.

An 1,800-square-foot addition to the practice’s 27,000-square-foot building at 810 Valley View Blvd. will be completed by the end of December.

The half million dollar project is being completed by Ralph J. Albarano & Sons Inc.

“This will provide more exam rooms and provide more infusion chairs for Crohn’s and colitis patients. There is a growing incidence of those diseases in this region,” said Executive Director Steve Gildea.

Blair Gastro was established in 1980 by Dr. Stephen Kaplan in Cricketfield Plaza, across from Altoona Hospital. Blair Gastro started with just four employees and two physicians. The practice was relocated in 1996 to Valley View Boulevard and has gone through several expansions with the latest being done in 2005. That expansion added the endoscopy suite that is adjacent to the office.

Blair Gastro has seen a steady and consistent growth over the nearly 40 years of service to the central Pennsylvania region.

“I joined the practice in 1992. We had 4 employees at that time. In 2019 we have 23 providers and about 100 employees. This is especially notable as the population of the region has not grown over that time period,” said Dr. Ralph McKibbin, president of Blair Gastro­enterology Associates.

“The reason we are growing in the region is there is a shortage of specialists in gastroenterology,” Gildea said. “We are the largest group between Pittsburgh and Reading. We are trying to provide services and access to our doctors in those areas where the needs are.”

Blair Gastro — with nine board certified gastroenterologists — draws patients from the Clearfield, DuBois, Johnstown, Somerset and Cumberland, Md., areas.

Blair Gastro opened a Bedford location in 2010 and a location in the UPMC Outpatient Center in Ebensburg in 2018.

“We are becoming a regional provider of gastroenterology services. The need and demand is out there. Many people have digestive diseases and disorders,” Gildea said. “Over the past 10-15 years, lifestyles and eating habits have worsened.”

“Blair Gastroenterology Associates has embraced the concept of being a regional resource for those who need GI services,” McKibbin said.

Blair Gastro is best known for providing up-to-date and evidence-based colon cancer screening services as colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States and it is very preventable, McKibbin said.

“Screening is based on a person’s risk factors and we offer a full menu of tests to meet your needs. We also offer screening for those at highest risk with familial or genetic cancer and have genetic services on site,” McKibbin said. “It is important to understand that we also offer advanced services to those with other GI conditions such as Crohn’s or colitis, reflux and diverticulosis. We also offer in office non-surgical hemorrhoid removal which is quietly growing in popularity.”

Gildea said the number of patients seen at Blair Gastro is “shocking.”

“Over the past 10 years, we have performed endoscopic procedures on over 100,000 patients — 101,926 through the end of 2018. This year, we will have performed over 12,000 procedures. We’ve grown from 8,550 in 2009 to over 12,000 in 2019,” Gildea said. “At our offices, we see almost 50,000 patients each year.”

Blair Gastro also sees patients at UPMC Altoona.

“The number of procedures we have done at UPMC Altoona has grown more than 20 percent over the past few years. People are less healthy and we are getting more patients from around the region. We handle the more complicated cases there,” Gildea said.

Blair Gastro is well known for “the high quality care that we provide to patients for gastrointestinal issues and the efficiency in which we operate our practice,” Gildea said. “We have a great team of high quality physicians that are exceptional. We continue to recruit and bring in great new doctors, and we have a staff that is very dedicated to care of patients and support the physicians.”

McKibbin said the key to Blair Gastro’s success is “based on the idea that our mission is to make high level, evidence-based care for GI conditions available to everyone in our region.”

Further growth and expansion is likely in the future.

“Historically our geographic isolation has deprived many people of much needed testing and treatment. We have focused efforts to bring these advances to the area. By partnering with hospitals, insurance carriers and other practices we have been able to make great progress. Local access to advanced care allows us to be quicker in responding but also to do so at a lower cost,” McKibbin said.

“We will continue to grow regionally and determine how to provide services to remote locations efficiently and effectively. We will become busier and busier unless there is a dramatic change in lifestyles and diets. We are out of growth space here, there is a driving need to have remote offices,” Gildea said.

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.

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