Local healthcare industry continues growth

Health Quest’s new location, now under construction at the former Macy’s in the Hudson Valley Mall (photo by Dion Ogust)

Sixteen years ago, Ulster County had 8300 healthcare jobs and 5200 manufacturing jobs. Last year, it had three times the number of healthcare jobs (9900) as manufacturing jobs (3300). That’s quite a change: the number of healthcare jobs increasing, the number of manufacturing jobs decreasing.

That healthcare employment peak is likely to be eclipsed in the near future, moreover. Some big investments in healthcare are in the pipeline. Though many of the jobs will reflect transfers of jobs between facilities, others will be additions.

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This fall, Health Quest will open to the public the first facilities at its $20-million, 88,000-square-foot medical center at the Hudson Valley Mall. On a recent weekday afternoon, a Bobcat, a rented mini-crane and a large dumpster could be seen at the site behind a temporary cyclone barrier, plus an assortment of mini-trailers and back-of-truck coolers. Some 44 construction people were at work. Meanwhile, the availability of space for lease was advertised at the former Sears in the mall.

In June, the state health department approved HealthAlliance of the Hudson Valley’s application to add a 79,000-square-foot structure adjoining the former Benedictine Hospital. There’ll also be extensive renovations of 48,000 square feet of the existing facility. Some time in the future, the former Kingston Hospital is projected to become a “medical village” to provide preventive and primary-care services. The combined HealthAlliance projects will have an estimated cost of $134.9 million. HealthAlliance officials said contract documents for construction are being prepared this summer.

Architect’s rendering of the new Vassar Brothers building

Substantial as these planned investments are, they pale in comparison to the $545-million projected cost of the serpentine eight-story new Vassar Bothers medical center building now towering above Route 9 in Poughkeepsie, scheduled for completion in 2020.

The training of healthcare professionals in the expansion of facilities is as important as the spending of the dollars on the facilities. The establishment of a new medical school on the grounds of Vassar Brothers Hospital, to be called the Marist Health Quest School of Medicine, is sure to have a major impact. The longstanding relationship between WMC, the owner of HealthAlliance, and the Institute of Family Health, which has trained scores of family doctors practicing in the Hudson Valley, is continuing.

 

Sarah Colomello, Health Quest’s manager of public and community affairs, said that everything discussed during the approval process at the Hudson Valley Mall was still in play at that facility. “We still expect a $20-million multi-specialty medical building, with … 500 parking spaces,” Colomello said. “For now, the building will have an urgent-care [facility] right by the main entrance, imaging, a phlebotomy lab, primary care and a physical-therapy gym.”

As for staffing and technology, projections are also still on track. “We’re actively recruiting physicians in specialty fields such as oncology,” said Colomello. “We still expect 40 healthcare providers and 120 to 150 employees when fully occupied. We are excited for our family medicine residents [medical students based at Northern Dutchess Hospital] ] to work with Hudson River Health Care in their primary-care clinic in the building …. We will have state-of-the-art diagnostic medical imaging and a modern gym for therapies.”

The mall space formerly occupied by Macy’s department store has been separated by 120 feet from the rest of the mall during construction and renovation, with roughly 40,000 square feet of the former store’s 110,000 square feet demolished. The mall-owning lessor to Health Quest, the Hull Property Group, plans to fill in the space between the two now separated structures with grass. Further landscaping improvements are also in the works.

The section between the new facility and the rest of the mall will be landscaped (Dion Ogust)

Interior construction is focusing on four different areas of approximately similar size. The first phase, the primary-care office leased to Hudson River Health Care, is nearing completion, Colomello said, with work on finishes such as flooring, paint, fixtures and cabinetry under way.

Born in the Hudson Valley, Hudson River Health Care (HRH Care) has a variety of affiliations serves about a quarter of a million patients at 28 healthcare centers annually. Its mission, it says, is “to increase access to comprehensive primary and preventive health care and to improve the health status of our community, especially for the underserved and vulnerable.” One of its first health centers, now staffed by a family practitioner, a dentist and a nutritionist, has been located at 1 Paradies Lane in New Paltz since 1975.

As for specific timing, HRH Care’s primary-care office at the Hudson Valley Mall should be open in the early fall pending building inspections and final approvals, said Colomello. “This is also where the family medicine residents at Health Quest will work. Our goal is for radiology (ultrasounds, mammography, MRI, CTs, x-ray), the laboratory for bloodwork, and our urgent-care center to be open in the fall, and for the additional services to be open by or in early 2020.”

The second and third areas are now being framed, with sheetrock going up, said Colomello. These include radiology, a bloodwork laboratory, and a walk-in urgent-care center. A final area for physical therapy, neurology and other healthcare specialties is ready for interior construction  pending physician recruitment.

Unlike HealthAlliance at its Kingston campus, Health Quest did not have to file a certificate of need (CON) with the state, said Colomello. If it adds certain specialty services in the future, however, it may need to do that.

The Hudson Valley Mall opened in 1981, and expanded the following year and two more times in the years since. Liverpool, New York-based PCK Development Co. LLC, defaulted on a debt of nearly $50 million and saw the property foreclosed upon. Hull Property Group thereafter bought the property for a small fraction of its appraised value.

In mid-August, Health Quest is scheduled to switch its name to Nuvance Health, the name chosen for the combined healthcare enterprise after its merger with the Western Connecticut Health Network in a $2.4-billion partnership.

During 2018 the average manufacturing worker in Ulster County was paid $50,131. That was about 15 percent more than the average healthcare worker, whose annual wage was $43,259.

There’s considerably variation in pay within the healthcare industry, according to the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages. The 1594 Ulster County employees working in hospitals had an average salary of $57,204, while those providing ambulatory care, earned an average $51,258. Lagging badly behind these wage levels were two other major categories, people who worked in nursing homes ($36,582) and those in social assistance ($27,048).

Read more from this special section, Healthy Communities.

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