The way hospitals operate in the region is about to change, as several expand in Saratoga County and brace for the impact of the federal Affordable Care Act.
Albany Medical Center, Ellis Medicine, St. Peter’s Health Partners and Saratoga Hospital are all moving into or expanding in the Saratoga County market, expanding their footprints to serve more patients.
“We’re fortunate here in Saratoga County to have population growth and job growth,” said Angelo Calbone, president and CEO of Saratoga Hospital. “I don’t think it should surprise anyone in health care that services will tend to gravitate toward population growth.”
Albany Medical Center and Saratoga Hospital teamed up to launch a $17.5 million urgent care center in Malta, off Exit 12 of the Northway. The facility officially opened in May.
Calbone said opening the center independently would have been a waste of capital and resources, especially when Albany Med was also looking to open a facility in the same area for the same reasons.
“It’s not a good use of our community’s money to duplicate everything,” he said. “The community there really needs one center. It would have been overkill to have multiple centers.”
Ellis Medicine established an urgent care facility in Clifton Park, off Northway Exit 9, which opened in October. James Connolly, president and CEO of Ellis, said he is working with the state Department of Health to transform the center into a freestanding emergency room.
Connolly said he would be “very surprised” if Ellis does not receive approval to expand the campus to have ambulances bring in patients. There is no current timeline for the project, however.
“We built the facility with the option for expansion, and we have added four more rooms since it opened,” he said. “We ended up buying property next door to the facility, and our plan is to develop that over time.”
The new facility is an expansion into an area Ellis has served for decades, Connolly said. He said Ellis was the largest hospital serving the area, but St. Peter’s now has about 40 percent of the market.
Several of the region’s hospitals may be expanding into Saratoga County, but Connolly said it hasn’t affected Ellis’ operations.
“When Albany Med and Saratoga Hospital opened their joint center at Exit 12, it wasn’t much of a blip on our radar screen,” he said. “We had about a year jump-start on establishing our presence there and establishing relationships with people who live in that community.”
At the same time, Saratoga Hospital has been working to build its services and provide patients with more convenient access to health care in the county.
“We felt that people previously needed to leave this county to find that service,” Calbone said. “We wanted to develop programs here so we can keep people coming here and keep access to health care here.”
Ellis Medicine and Saratoga Hospital are also making changes at their main campuses in Schenectady and Saratoga Springs, respectively. The renovations are in response to advances in medical technology.
Ellis is expanding its emergency room on Nott Street. Construction for the $85 million project, which includes a parking garage and complete overhaul of Ellis’ electrical infrastructure, is expected to be finished in July.
At the Bellevue Woman’s Center, Ellis has expanded its pharmacy, nursing stations and nurseries and consolidated imaging services into one area. That project totaled $16 million.
Saratoga Hospital invested $35.6 million to build a new intensive care unit, which will be operational in early 2015, and replace its emergency room by 2016.
“To continue to have the ability to bring exceptional skills into our organization and develop new programs, we are really out of space,” Calbone said. “That’s an outcome of our success, and now, we’re pretty much hitting a wall. If we didn’t do this, we would limit our future opportunities to continue to do great work. These are projects of necessity.”
The investments come as hospitals are preparing to shift how they operate following implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare. The goal is to provide more Americans with access to affordable health insurance and reduce health-care spending, but Connolly said it does not reduce the cost of care.
“People with chronic illnesses consume 50 percent of health care, and they are not going to get better,” he said. “We have to help manage their care better so they stay out of the emergency room. But that decreases our money coming into the hospital.”
Calbone said Obamacare would change how the hospital takes care of patients by pushing to manage them at the primary-care level and decrease the amount of hospital services.
“Where the money will come from to expand health-care coverage is reducing use of the most expensive part of the health-care continuum, which happens to be hospitals,” Calbone said. “There will be a lot of pressure on the hospital with how we will provide that care when we are receiving less money.”
How will the hospitals make it work? Calbone and Connolly said they are still in the process of figuring it out, but both are confident their hospitals will continue to grow.
“If you take yourself down the road 20 years, you can make the case that this is a better way to use resources in the health-care system,” Connolly said. “It’s just the middle period that is going to be very tough, because we’re built, designed and functioning a certain way. This is disrupting the whole system.”