A catchy moniker denotes the prominence and plethora of health-care services along Westerville's Cleveland Avenue corridor. But the Medical Mile brings more than a memorable nickname to this suburban stretch.

A catchy moniker denotes the prominence and plethora of health-care services along Westerville's Cleveland Avenue corridor. But the Medical Mile brings more than a memorable nickname to this suburban stretch.

With a significant presence from three of Columbus' major health-care providers -- Mount Carmel Health System, Nationwide Children's Hospital and OhioHealth -- the industry has become a major player in Westerville's economy.

It's development that the suburb has planned and competed for in the corridor that stretches for 2 miles along Cleveland Avenue, from Mount Carmel St. Ann's just north of Schrock Road to OhioHealth's Westerville Medical Campus on Polaris Parkway, just east of Cleveland.

And it's primarily driven by continued population growth in Westerville and northern Franklin and southern Delaware counties as well as an aging population, according to health-care executives and local officials.

Another factor: A changing delivery model is shifting patient care away from centrally located anchor hospitals to medical facilities that offer coalesced and specialized resources in the communities where people live and work.

It's no accident, then, that the Medical Mile offers convenient access from both Interstates 71 and 270. Plus, Cleveland Avenue is a major thoroughfare that extends from downtown Columbus into Westerville.

"It makes accessibility for our patients much easier," says Brett Justice, senior vice president of strategy and system development for Mount Carmel Health System.

That's one reason Mount Carmel, Nationwide Children's and OhioHealth have targeted growth in the health-care district, building and expanding inpatient and outpatient facilities that offer everything from surgery to heart and vascular services to orthopedics and physical therapy, specialty clinics, diagnostics and dental care.

The biggest project in progress is a $22 million, 60,000-square-foot, 60-bed rehabilitation hospital set to open in the first quarter of 2017. It's a joint venture between Mount Carmel and HealthSouth Corp. under construction on 7 acres near the southwest corner of Cleveland Avenue and Polaris Parkway.

The facility will provide specialized rehabilitative care to patients affected by stroke, trauma, brain and orthopedic injuries. It will feature private rooms, an on-site therapy gym and a walking path, and will boost Mount Carmel's presence in Westerville, which began with the acquisition of St. Ann's Hospital in 1995. "We're just continuing to expand our services in the community as the community needs them," Justice says.

Westerville officials were happy to land the new hospital. City Council in 2015 approved a 12-year, 65 percent property tax abatement for the project, which was projected to save HealthSouth about $3.1 million, with the city getting about $3.9 million in net property and income taxes.

Initially, the hospital should bring about 100 full-time jobs, growing to 140 jobs with an annual payroll of $8.9 million, says Jason Bechtold, Westerville's economic development director. Those are mostly high-paying positions, he adds, averaging more than $60,000 a year.

The project is another score for the suburb, whose officials have targeted health care among five growth industries. "Health care is a significant segment of the Westerville economy with hospitals, physician facilities and medical offices located in the Cleveland Avenue corridor," Bechtold says. "We're very focused and intentional about what our growth in Westerville is over a period of time."

The Medical Mile also is attractive to companies in other industries looking to potentially locate in Westerville, Bechtold says.

The Major Players

Relatively speaking, it wasn't all that long ago when St. Ann's was the only game in town.

Founded in 1908 on Columbus' East Side to care for unwed mothers and orphaned infants, St. Ann's Infant Asylum was renamed St. Ann's Hospital for Women in 1920 when maternity care was added. In 1951, it opened a department of medicine and general surgery. It wasn't until 1972 that the hospital treated its first male patient.

St. Ann's move to Westerville in 1984 was driven by the same thing that influenced the facility's major expansion a few years ago: continued population growth and the need for medical services that are more accessible to patients.

That market shift also provided the impetus for Mount Carmel, Nationwide Children's and OhioHealth to expand their presence along the Medical Mile in recent years.

For example, Mount Carmel physician practices provide primary care as well as heart and vascular, neurology and neurosurgery services. Additionally, centers for breast and endocrine surgery, thoracic surgery, heart failure and anticoagulation care are located in the corridor. Cardiac and other rehabilitation services, sleep medicine and labs are available, too.

In 2012, OhioHealth and Nationwide Children's debuted major facilities of their own. OhioHealth opened the nearly 50,000-square-foot, two-story Westerville Medical Campus on Polaris Parkway, featuring the health-care system's first freestanding emergency department. Also on-site are the outpatient Polaris Surgery Center, primary-care practices, imaging and lab services, orthopedics, ob-gyn, cardiovascular care, physical therapy and rehabilitation programs, and sleep medicine.

OhioHealth's first suburban multispecialty campus has served as a model for additional facilities, starting with the Pickerington Medical Campus that opened in 2015. In late June, OhioHealth announced plans to build three more standalone emergency departments in 2018 in Grove City, Hilliard and Obetz. Company officials were not available for comment.

Meanwhile, Nationwide Children's Hospital also has established a strong presence. It opened a new facility in 2012, a 46,000-square-foot ambulatory surgery center. Aside from operating suites, the center has medical and surgical clinics for specialty care in areas such as audiology, cardiology, neurology, otolaryngology (ear, nose and throat), and speech and language pathology.

The center's opening was the most recent in a trio of facilities Nationwide Children's has located along the Medical Mile. The first, in 2003, was a 32,000-square-foot Close to Home Center with urgent-care services. Five years later, the 23,000-square-foot Westerville Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center opened.

Nationwide Children's also offers another Close to Home Center and the Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders, both on Schrock Road.

In 2013, Mount Carmel St. Ann's debuted its $110 million expansion, aimed at creating a regional medical center. Today, the hospital has close to 400 registered beds and clinical specialties such as cardiovascular care (including open heart procedures), primary stroke and women's health centers, an orthopedics and spine unit and neurosurgery.

Strong Ties

The big systems' investment has been a catalyst for other medical professionals to set up shop throughout Westerville -- from dozens of private physician and dentist practices to related health-care services.

When TWC Pharmacy and Wellness Center was looking to leave its location near Easton for a larger space, Westerville's established health-care market was a deciding factor, co-owner and CEO Laura Atkinson says. "That was the main reason: the location and proximity to multiple medical facilities and health-care providers," she says. "We looked for well over two years.

"I think one of the big things is having Mount Carmel, and then of course OhioHealth putting a facility on Polaris Parkway. The benefit of them being there enhanced opportunities for ancillary medical providers to meet the need for these types of services," she says.

Atkinson and Catherine Lopienski, co-owner and vice president of pharmacy operations, opened TWC Pharmacy in a new building on Schrock Road near State Street in late 2014. They wanted to be part of the community while offering personalized services in a throwback to the days of the independent local pharmacy.

Atkinson lives in the Polaris area and is a Westerville fan. "I really like the community. We participated in a lot of the community events even prior to us being there," she says, including with the Westerville Area Chamber of Commerce and Uptown's 4th Fridays.

"We like the small-town feel, but there still are the big-time opportunities," she says. "We want to continue to grow in the community." They have room to do so and are already in talks about possible expansion, Atkinson says, though she declines to discuss specifics yet.

As an economic driver, the three health-care systems employ more than 2,700 workers and occupy nearly 800,000 square feet of office space along the Medical Mile, according to the city's community snapshot.

"The medical profession is very prominent in our community," says chamber President and CEO Janet Tressler-Davis. "We take pride in this. We're very fortunate to have three of the major hospital systems within our community and region."

The businesses also are civic-minded, Tressler-Davis notes. "The major institutions absolutely want to give back. They are very involved in our community."

Mount Carmel's Justice applauds the working relationship between the health-care provider and the city. "We have a strong relationship with the management team in Westerville. It's a pleasure working with them. It's good to work with a group of like-minded folks who want to serve the community as much as they can and partner with them to do that."

"Just the momentum of the Medical Mile has really galvanized the city's efforts in supporting and understanding the health-care industry," Bechtold says. "So you're seeing a lot more companies looking to expand here."

The corridor has earned a certain panache as well, he says: "If you have your address along the Cleveland Avenue corridor, that has a regional awareness."

Debbie Briner is a freelance writer.

ThisWeek Community News reporter Andrew King also contributed to this story.

This story appears in the Summer 2016 issue of Westerville365.