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Innovista attracts health IT center

By James T. Hammond
Published Sept. 4, 2012

With encouragement from Innovista, American Specialty Health Inc. of San Diego is locating a new health technology innovation center in Columbia to grow the pipeline for programmers who may become its employees, said Kevin Kujawa, the company’s chief information officer.

The new center, which will be located in the IT-ology at Innovista building at 1301 Gervais St., is expected to employ about 15 professional programmers at its inception.

Kevin Kujawa, American Specialty Health chief information officer
Kevin Kujawa, American Specialty Health chief information officer
Kujawa said the support of IT-ology and its staff led by Lonnie Emard was attractive. And, the company has established a close relationship with the USC College of Engineering and Computing that will bring eight computing students into the center each year to develop their senior-year projects.

American Specialty Health CFO Bill Comer is a University of South Carolina graduate and a key contact in talks between Innovista and the company about creating the Columbia center to develop mobile devices and applications.

“A development director with the university reached out to us in 2011, and, as a result, Innovista visited us in California,” Comer said.

The California-based company is not a startup; it has been in business for 25 years, employs 900 people and has 31 million people insured. American Specialty Health works with 132 health plans nationwide and expects to post about $230 million in revenue in 2012.

Comer said the intent of American Specialty Health chairman and CEO George DeVries is that this health technology innovation center will be an East Coast landing party for the company.

“In a few years, it is our hope that this will grow into an East Coast operations center,” Comer said. “It will open up opportunities for collaboration with the Arnold School of Public Health, the College of Engineering and Computing, other schools at the University of South Carolina and the city of Columbia and its business community.”

Bill Comer, CFO of American Specialty Health

“In a few years, it is our hope that this will grow into an East Coast operations center.”

—Bill Comer, CFO of American Specialty Health

DeVries said: “As technology plays an increasingly larger role in American Specialty Health’s service capabilities and in the day-to-day lives of people, the company must deliver innovative and robust capabilities that will allow us to keep up with demand and also grow our services in new ways.

“Our new office site tied to the university campus and our affiliation with USC and Innovista puts us at the center of technology innovation and will facilitate access to a valuable pool of prospective employees as we develop new Web and mobile technology applications,” DeVries added.

Ann Marie Stieritz, director of business solutions at Innovista, said American Specialty Health’s decision to establish its health technology innovation lab in Columbia is an example of “the attractiveness of our region to knowledge economy ventures.”

“Innovista has always been about recognizing that the University of South Carolina can serve as an economic magnet,” she said. “We see opportunities not only within the computing and IT fields but also with the Arnold School of Public Health’s research into healthy lifestyles and the Darla Moore School of Business that point to even deeper possibilities of partnership with ASH as an Innovista partner company.”

DeVries co-founded American Specialty Health in 1987, initially focusing on chiropractic provider programs. His goal was to develop specialty health care programs and to integrate them into traditional medical plans offered by Fortune 500 employers, insurance companies and health plans. The company has since added physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, nutrition services, dietetic services, acupuncture, naturopathy and massage therapy.

Now, the company is building upon Comer’s roots in South Carolina. He is a Union County native and a 1982 graduate of USC with an accounting degree. He also earned a political science degree from Wofford College in 1977.

American Specialty Health expects to offer jobs to some of the interns who develop their senior projects at its Columbia health technology innovation center.

The company offers health care products as optional add-ons to employer-provided health plans, similar to the way dental plans are often offered to insured workers. The three main products are:

  • Specialty networks for health plans, such as chiropractic, acupuncture, massage therapy, physical therapy and occupational therapy;
  • Senior fitness plans;
  • Health and wellness online and home programs, based upon coaching, to deal with lifestyle and health challenges such as smoking cessation and weight loss.

“Our plans empower individuals to have longer, healthier lives,” Kujawa said.

Kujawa said the Columbia health technology innovation center is currently under construction, and he expects it to be open within 60 days. Hiring is under way, he said, adding the company aims to employ locally hired managers.

Comer said when company officials visited Columbia, “we were impressed with the reception we received.”

He compared Columbia with San Diego, which experienced a flight of businesses and people from its downtown but which has experienced a renaissance into an attractive new urban environment.

“I see downtown Columbia’s business sector exploding over the next 10 years,” Comer said. “It’s a great place to live, work and have a business.”

Reach James T. Hammond at 803-401-1094, ext. 201.

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