The region’s newest medical center will officially open its doors next week on one of Malta’s most iconic horse farms.
When it opens Monday six years after it was envisioned, Malta Med will be nearly everything that hospital leaders hoped it would be. It’s an urgent care center capable of providing emergency room-level care 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It’s the first phase of an eventual medical park on Route 67 near Northway Exit 12. It fills a niche in a fast-growing market. And it’s one of a growing number of partnerships between hospitals looking to abandon their old habits of competition for collaboration.
Saratoga Hospital and Albany Medical Center announced the partnership in 2010, calling the project a “50-50 joint venture” that would give residents of central and southern Saratoga County a higher level of care closer to home.
“We’re enthusiastic about it,” said Dr. Chris King, chair of emergency medicine at Albany Med. “Malta is an area that has been a magnet for people all over the world to come work at a world-class facility, so people are going to have high expectations for their access to health care. And so our plan and our intent was to provide the highest level of care that could be offered in that setting, and so we’re very excited to start serving the community.”
Saratoga Hospital purchased the 140-acre property in 2007. Its fields had become overgrown, but the former standardbred horse farm still retained bucolic aspects from years past — vast meadows, old barns and white paddock fences.
Hospital officials designed the center so that it would blend into its surroundings. Columbia Development of Albany broke ground on the facility last July, and today it looks a bit like a horse barn with its high-shingled roof, stone walls and wood paneling.
“The town of Malta wanted it to be reflective of the heritage of that piece of property,” said Saratoga Hospital President and CEO Angelo Calbone.
Inside, however, Malta Med has all the components of a modern medical facility.
The 60,000-square-foot facility houses an emergent care center on its first floor, with 24 patient rooms, an MRI, CT, X-ray, ultrasound and lab where staff can provide blood work, glucose and cholesterol screening, urinalysis and other services. On the second floor are private physician offices that will largely be occupied by Saratoga Hospital practices. Outside is an ambulance bay and helipad.
Columbia Development technically owns the $15 million facility, and is leasing the space out to both hospitals at an undisclosed rate.
“We have all the equipment needed to do almost any level of emergency-type care,” said King, who will oversee center operations. “So we’ll be able to do ultrasound at the bedside. We’ll be able to do advanced airway management if necessary. But the primary thrust is providing this ambulatory care for the various types of pains or fever or symptoms that are not considered to be life threatening, but may require stabilizing and monitoring.”
About 75 full-time employees will work at the new center, including a large number of Saratoga Hospital transfers and Albany Med emergency physicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants. In addition, the center will offer electronic, real-time consultation with specialists at both hospitals.
Once Malta Med opens, Saratoga Hospital will shut down operations at Malta Medical Arts — a small urgent care center it runs on Route 9 in Malta.
“We always knew we were going to outgrow that space,” said Calbone. “So we began to look at that part of the county and think ‘How can we best provide a high level of services?’ ”
It was around that time that Saratoga Hospital and Albany Med first began tinkering with collaboration. In 2009, they launched technology that would allow their doctors to view images simultaneously and consult with each other on stroke patients.
It was also around this time that hospitals began to covet market share in central and southern Saratoga County, which was to be the site of a multibillion-dollar global manufacturing plant slated to bring more than 1,000 jobs to the area.
Area hospitals submitted applications to the state to build emergency departments that would bear their names in the fast-growing region. But the Department of Health denied them all, citing a lack of need for full-blown emergency rooms — especially in the wake of new state guidelines aimed at eliminating redundancies in health care.
Of course, there was a need there. The closest emergency room for a child suffering an extreme allergic reaction in the town of Halfmoon was about 15 miles away at Schenectady’s Ellis Hospital or 20 miles away at Saratoga Hospital.
“So we had this conversation with Albany Med one day, where we talked about instead of one or more institutions investing assets and resources and possibly duplicating our efforts to provide these types of resources in the area, what if we did it together at once?” recalled Calbone.
After much brainstorming, they submitted an application to DOH for a joint venture called Healthcare Partners of Saratoga Ltd. The jointly operated urgent care building was approved, and would be phase one of a brand new medical park that Saratoga Hospital had long envisioned for the town, complete with medical office buildings, long-term care facilities and an eventual full-service hospital.
Today, Calbone is unsure whether they will build a full-service hospital at the park, since so much has changed in the industry. Health care professionals are now focused more on managing the health of a population than filling beds in hospitals. The delivery of health care no longer needs to take place in a hospital setting, and the days of one hospital for every market are no more, as industry leaders seek to trim overhead expenses amid the growing cost of health care.
Ellis Medicine of Schenectady opened its own urgent care center in Clifton Park last fall, filling some of the regional gap in emergency-level care.
“This project was conceived five to seven years ago, before there were a lot of other providers expressing interest in that part of the county,” said Calbone. “It just took us a while to do it, to conclude that the time was right, that the demand was there. And I’m happy that the product that we’re now able to deliver is unique and designed to meet the growing need down there.”
The hospitals will hold a grand opening celebration and open house on Friday for community members to meet the center’s doctors, take a tour and get all their questions answered in advance of the center’s opening. The center is located at 6 Medical Park Drive in Malta.