NISKAYUNA — Albany Medical Center this week gained final state approval to upgrade its ambulatory surgical center on Union Street in Niskayuna.
The project is a conversion of an existing surgical center co-located with Albany Med’s EmUrgent-Care clinic at 1769 Union St. that will be accomplished with minimal expense or physical alteration, Albany Med says. It is a reclassification that will allow more procedures to be performed there, potentially at a higher reimbursement rate for Albany Med.
The state review process dragged out more than nine months, however, as nearby Ellis Medicine opposed it on the grounds that it would directly siphon off patients and revenue that Ellis needs to balance its books.
Ellis enlisted elected officials and others in the cause, and apparently swayed several members of a key state Department of Health panel: Two votes by the panel last autumn went in Albany Med’s favor, but by margins so narrow that the matter automatically went to the state health commissioner for a final decision.
Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker on Wednesday approved the request for a certificate of need, contingent on a what is essentially a formality: submission of engineering and state hospital code drawings.
Albany Med on Friday said it hopes to make the changeover without much further delay, and said the main unknown at this point is how long it takes to schedule the on-site inspection.
Dr. Ferdinand J. Venditti, executive vice president of system care delivery at Albany Med, said via email:
“Albany Med is very pleased to be move forward with expanding our services to the Schenectady County community with our new Niskayuna facility and we welcome the opportunity to make our expert care more accessible to people throughout our region. We’re grateful to the state commissioner for providing this approval and helping move the project along and we will move forward as soon as possible.”
Ellis Medicine late Friday said it had learned of Zucker’s ruling only that afternoon, and was not able to offer a response.
Throughout the review process, Ellis raised multiple objections to Albany Medical Center’s proposed ambulatory surgery center, which stands just 0.9 miles from Ellis Medicine’s McClellan Street campus (where ambulatory surgeries are performed) and 1.5 miles from Ellis Hospital, Schenectady County’s only general-service hospital.
It said Albany Med had deliberately sited the facility in a wealthy ZIP code near Ellis to siphon some of the most lucrative procedures away from Ellis, depriving Ellis of profit it needs to subsidize its role as a health care provider to the uninsured and underinsured residents of Schenectady County, and to counterbalance the services it provides at a loss.
Albany Medical Center built the 37,000-square-foot Niskayuna facility to Article 28 standards but did not classify it as an Article 28 facility, so it did not require a state certificate of need and Ellis Medicine therefore had no forum in which to register its objections.
The facility opened in March 2017. In May 2018, Albany Med formally requested a state certificate of need to convert the ambulatory surgical center to an Article 28 facility, which would allow it to perform a wider range of procedures there and claim higher reimbursement rates from health insurers. Its estimated cost of conversion: $0.
In November 2018, Ellis said it had already lost 2,300 procedures and $1.2 million in revenue to Albany Med’s Niskayuna ambulatory surgical center, even without Article 28 status.
Venditti said then that competition is good for the consumer, and said he didn’t think Ellis would be harmed by Albany Med gaining Article 28 approval.