Ellis Medicine will try once more to win state Department of Health approval to have its new Clifton Park medical center designated a freestanding emergency department.
The Schenectady-based hospital system first sought this approval in 2009 when the center was still just an idea, but it was rejected — along with several other area hospitals — because the state saw no need for full-blown emergency rooms in the area.
So Ellis Medicine built an enhanced urgent care center instead. The Medical Center of Clifton Park opened in October 2012 on Sitterly Road near Exit 9 of the Northway, with all of the staffing, training and equipment of an emergency department. The main difference is that it cannot accept patients arriving by ambulance like an emergency room can.
“Ellis always envisioned this facility would operate as a free-standing emergency room, and this [Certificate of Need] application is the next phase of that vision,” said Ellis Medicine Executive Vice President and COO Paul Milton in an email.
Ellis believes the state’s view of the community’s needs may have changed since the original 2009 rejection. Since then, area health care providers have sought to extend their services into southern Saratoga County, where economic development spurred by chip manufacturer GlobalFoundries has contributed to a growing population with growing health needs. Some have been successful, like a joint partnership between Albany Medical Center and Saratoga Hospital to open an urgent care center in Malta.
But none have received the go-ahead to build a freestanding emergency room.
However, a changing health care landscape, along with the state’s continuous monitoring of what is best for local communities, may better Ellis’ chances of winning approval this time around, said Milton.
“New York state has been watching trends around the country in terms of how freestanding emergency rooms are utilized,” he said. “New York state is performing its own evaluation of its stance on such facilities. In our regular, ongoing dialogue with the state, we revisited this topic and suggested we submit another application during its own evaluation. New York state has always been a great partner in helping us reshape how care is delivered and allowing us to respond to our neighbors’ needs.”
A state Department of Health spokesperson could not respond to immediate request for comment late Tuesday.
The Certificate of Need process allows the state to limit investment in duplicate beds, services and medical equipment in an overall attempt to limit health care costs.
Milton said if the Certificate of Need is indeed improved, Ellis wouldn’t need to invest anything to make the transformation to a freestanding ER. The most significant change, he said, would be the center’s ability to accept patients via ambulance.
“In working with our community partners, including local EMS such as Clifton Park & Halfmoon Emergency Corps, we are striving to respond to the community’s desire for ambulances to transport patients to a convenient facility in their community. This allows patients to be seen sooner and for the ambulances to return back to the community.”
The medical center, at two stories and 38,000 square feet, is always open and already has many of the accommodations available at traditional emergency rooms. These include patient rooms, a resuscitation area and triage room, an ambulance bay, imaging and laboratory services and a decontamination room. Its staff is trained in emergency medicine and can treat any patients who walk in with emergencies.
Foot traffic at the facility has been steady since the October opening, said Milton, and in fact has exceeded the staff’s initial expectations.
“Volume has been great,” he said. “This confirms our assessment that the community needed a facility such as the Medical Center of Clifton Park.”