The region's oldest and largest federally qualified health center has acquired one of Lifetime Health Medical Group's former facilities, which will become the new home of an enlarged women's medical practice.
Neighborhood Health Center, based on Buffalo's West Side, paid $925,000 this week to acquire the former Lifetime center at 151 Elmview Drive in Hamburg. The 11,928-square-foot facility was left vacant after Rochester-based Lifetime Healthcare Cos. – parent of Univera Healthcare – closed its affiliated primary care medical practice in Buffalo and Rochester late last year.
Neighborhood Health Center will now relocate its Southtowns Women's Center from its current site about a mile away in 2,334 square feet at 3674 Commerce Place, where it has been for 16 years. The new facility is on the other side of the Thruway and closer to the village.
"It really was an opportunity for us to address the need to expand," said Joanne Haefner, chief executive officer for Neighborhood Health Center. "We're pretty confident that more patients need care, and this office will be easier for them to find."
The facility now sees about 4,000 different people every year, but Haefner expects that to grow by about 10 percent this year, and even more next year. Officials intend to start notifying patients early next week, she said, and hope to begin seeing them in the new office by June 5, using the long Memorial Day weekend to facilitate the move. Applications for the new office already have been submitted to federal and state regulators.
"The first thing we want to do is make sure every one of our current patients is aware that we're moving," she said. "It should be seamless."
Established in 1987 and formerly the Northwest Buffalo Community Health Care Center until 2011, Neighborhood Health is a safety-net primary care provider, offering medical, dental, pharmacy, nutritional and behavioral health services. It serves more than 23,000 Western New York residents as their family doctor, the organization said.
Its original location is at 155 Lawn Ave. in the Black Rock-Riverside area, but also operates the Mattina facility at 300 Niagara St. on the Lower West Side, and in Blasdell at 4233 Lake Ave., in addition to Commerce Place.
The move in Hamburg will expand the Women's Center operation's space more than five-fold, allowing the nonprofit to offer more services and support its growth. Specifically, officials plan to immediately add behavioral health and nutritional services to the current women's health and family planning services now being offered. Previously, those were available on only a limited basis.
"We are excited to expand our footprint and provide our services to residents of Hamburg," said Neighborhood Health spokeswoman Justine David.
Neighborhood Health plans to nearly triple the number of examination rooms from five currently to 14, plus additional space for the behavioral health and nutrition services. It also will provide onsite lab and blood-draw services for patients, and "will continue to expand as our patients need it," Haefner said.
The existing Women's Center currently employs about a dozen clinical staff and administrative support personnel, while the doctors who deliver babies rotate among all Neighborhood Health offices. With the expansion, Haefner expects to add about two or three employees this year and likely another dozen in 2019, as the clinic adds new services and physicians.
“The decision to expand our presence in the Western New York Southtowns region is in response to the overwhelming health needs in our community and is the next logical step in our growth strategy,” she said. “It is our hope that we can be that conduit for care that continues to deliver the high-level medical services.”
Haefner said nonprofit officials have "known since our last strategic plan that we really had to address the space." The organization had begun looking around for options, but halted the search last year after it bought a long-vacant former Super Duper and Jubilee Foods supermarket on Lake Avenue in Blasdell that it converted into its fourth location.
"We wanted to see how that would impact us," she said. "It hasn't impacted it negatively at all. We've continued to see the same number of patients, and we know we needed more space."
Meanwhile, Lifetime had closed its three Buffalo-area centers and transferred its Rochester facilities to a new operator, so the 5.21-acre Elmview location was available. "The market for freestanding office and medical office buildings remains strong," said David Schiller of Pyramid Brokerage Co., who marketed the site for Lifetime.
The facility was "well-maintained," but Neighborhood Health will still spend about $100,000 to install new technology, repaint and put in new fixtures before opening, Haefner said. Colby Development LLC, which worked with the nonprofit on the Blasdell office and developed an on-site pharmacy at Mattina, is handling the project.
"Lifetime Health has been really excellent to work with," Haefner said. "They were really proponents of seeing us move into the space and to see that it got used for primary health care in that neighborhood."
Haefner said the organization also maintains its commitment to the northern part of its service area, where it sees most of its patients in Buffalo, including some from Tonawanda. She said the nonprofit wants to expand its capacity in the city, ideally by adding on space to its current facilities, but it also will explore other locations if that makes sense. "We definitely know there's a need," she said.
Officials will start talking to partner organizations in other areas to see what opportunities exist without overlapping with agencies like Community Health Center, Evergreen Health and Jericho Road.