Last year, he said, Hallmark reported revenues of $310 million and net income of $15 million. Currently, there are 3,100 employees and 650 doctors in the network.

That's in sharp contrast to 1999, for example, when Hallmark had revenues of $210 million and a $25 million loss.

In recent years, Sack said, Hallmark has been retrenching while simultaneously adding clinical programs for its primary service area: Melrose, Wakefield, Malden, Medford, Saugus, Stoneham, Revere, and Everett.

Whidden Hospital in Everett was sold to Cambridge Health Alliance in 2001, and Malden Medical Center was sold two years ago to Deaconess Abundant Life Communities of Concord.

"We now have more depth of services, a broadening of the Hallmark Health brand," said Sack, chief executive since 2003. Previously, he was the top executive at Affinity Health Alliance in Elkton, Md. Before that, he was a senior vice president of St. Francis Hospital in Hartford.

In addition to the Reading facility, a $4 million cancer center was unveiled in February off Montvale Avenue in Stoneham.

Hospital competition off Route 128 is keener than ever, said Rich Copp, a spokesman for the Burlington-based Massachusetts Hospital Association. The Lahey Clinic, based in Burlington, has long had a big presence in the 128 north region, but large Boston teaching hospitals such as Children's and Massachusetts General are making inroads along the beltway with their facilities, Copp noted.

"There is definitely a trend statewide of hospitals finding ways to bring care into patients' backyards," said Copp.

Hallmark's having an on-site presence in Reading for the first time is an effort to reach out to patients in that town as well as those in North Reading, Stoneham, Wilmington, and parts of Woburn, said Sack, a native of St. Louis who lives in North Reading.

Other communities in Hallmark's secondary service area are Chelsea, Lynnfield, Somerville, Winchester, and Winthrop.

"We don't want patients to travel as far as they did in the past," he said.

The three-story, 33,000-square-foot center off New Crossing Road in a burgeoning retail-office section of Reading will offer rehabilitation, laboratory services, and imaging, including CAT scan, ultrasound, and digital mammography. MRI equipment will be added later.

Seven medical practices, involving 10 doctors, six nurse practitioners, and a midwife, will have space in the building, said Helen Woods, director of Hallmark's Reading medical center. In all, there will be between 45 and 50 employees, Woods said.

Sack said he expects Hallmark "to have competition from anyone in the area."

Nearby, off Pond Meadow Drive, is an outpatient center that has been operated by Winchester Hospital since 1992. It has imaging and laboratory services and physician office space, said Angela Strunk, a hospital spokeswoman. There are about 20 employees, including doctors, she said.

The Hallmark building has undergone $3 million in renovations, Sack said. It had been connected to an adjoining office structure occupied by The Analytical Sciences Corp., Reading Town Manager Peter Hechenbleikner recalled. But TASC was acquired by Northrop Grumman Corp., and the office building has been vacant for about a year, he said.

"Hallmark's coming to town picks up that whole area and enhances our medical community," Hechenbleikner said.

Hallmark is receiving recognition for its services elsewhere as well, said Christine Candio, 46, executive vice president of Lawrence Memorial. Last month, the hospital was designated a center of excellence by the American Society for Bariatric Surgery. Bariatric surgery is more commonly known as gastric-bypass surgery.

Only four other hospitals in the state have received this designation, Candio said.

Looking ahead, Sack said Hallmark "will be talking with others about clinical affiliations and services, but not about consolidating with another institution. We want to continue to provide ready access to healthcare in our large service area."

Hallmark currently has a relationship with Mass. General for cardiology services and Tufts-New England Medical Center, also of Boston, for neonatology, or services for the newborn.

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