Healthways plans to add 200 nurse jobs in Howard


American Healthways Inc., which opened a nurse call center in Columbia last year, plans to add 200 jobs to the existing 135 positions, company and local economic development officials announced yesterday.

The company, based in Nashville, Tenn., provides disease and care management. Under contracts with health insurers and governments, its nurses monitor the care of people with chronic diseases with the aim of minimizing hospitalization.

When American Healthways opened in Columbia a little more than a year ago, "we didn't just cut the ribbon and walk away," said Richard W. Story, chief executive officer of the Howard County Development Authority.

County and state economic development officials kept in touch with the company, as did the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore, a public-private partnership trying to attract business to the area.

Having targeted health services as a growth area, the partnership was aware that the 2003 Medicare Modernization Act was going to create opportunities for private contractors, said Christian Johansson, the alliance's president.

When it learned American Healthways was competing for a new Medicare contract, "we said, 'Hey, we know you'll probably have to expand,'" said Leigh Ann Ruggles, the alliance's director of business development.

In December, when American Healthways won a Medicare contract for a demonstration project managing 20,000 patients with diabetes or congestive heart failure, the company considered five locations around the country, said Nick Balog, Healthways' senior vice president of central operations.

Balog said Columbia was in a strong position because the community would give American Healthways a chance to combine operations with its existing facility; because the area has an "incredibly talented nursing pool"; and because Columbia is near its client, the federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services in Woodlawn.

"Basically, they have fallen in love with the area," said Aris Melissaratos, state secretary of the Department of Business and Economic Development.

The state and Howard County helped close the deal with incentives. According to the state development agency, American Healthways will get a $200,000 loan, contingent on its meeting job creation goals, and $125,000 in training money.

Story said the company will get a county tax credit of 75 percent the first year, 50 percent the second year and 25 percent the third year. He said the cost of the tax break depends on the assessed value of the building being constructed for American Healthways.

Balog said the company would be occupying 33,000 square feet "within walking distance" of its space in Columbia Gateway Business Park, which has an additional 33,000 square feet.

Most of those hired, he said, will be nurses, and salaries will be competitive. He said American Healthways has begun hiring 70 people to start in April and 70 more to start in May. The number of new hires should reach 200 by the end of the year, he said.

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