Amherst Industrial Development Agency board members changed their minds Friday on granting tax breaks for a proposed urgent care facility on Niagara Falls Boulevard.
The board, by a 4-0 vote with one abstention, rescinded the nearly $200,000 in tax breaks that it granted last month to Exigence LLC to build a 6,000-square-foot urgent care facility at 2099 Niagara Falls Blvd.
Concerns about the project's impact on Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital, which is tripling the size of its emergency room, along with questions about how it might affect a possible transformation of DeGraff Memorial Hospital in North Tonawanda into an urgent care facility prompted the IDA to reconsider its approval last week.
"There's a lot of information we don't have. There are a lot of questions," said James J. Allen, the agency's executive director.
While medical projects like the one Exigence is proposing generally don't qualify for aid under the countywide eligibility policy for IDAs, the Amherst agency determined last month that it could provide incentives under an exception that allows aid for medical services that generally are not available.
A similar facility, touted as a less expensive alternative to hospital emergency rooms, is operated by Exigence on Transit Road in Amherst, but it did not receive any aid from the IDA, which determined at the time that it did not qualify for incentives, Allen said.
But the board last month ruled that the Niagara Falls Boulevard project was eligible because a state commission has since recommended the increased use of urgent care facilities as a more affordable and efficient way of delivering after-hours care for patients who need stitches or have other less serious injuries and illnesses.
Board member Nathan S. Neill said last month's approval was based on the agency's belief that medical services like those planned by Exigence would not be readily available in the community.
At the time, board members were aware that similar services already are provided by the other Exigence facility and the Medfirst Urgent Care office on Sheridan Drive. They did not know that the Millard Fillmore expansion project included plans for an area to "fast track" patients requiring less critical care.
"The question is whether we can actually make a legal determination based on what we now know," Neill said. "The issue for us is whether this project meets our standard."
Town Supervisor Satish Mohan, who is obligated to sign off on tax breaks granted by the IDA, raised concerns about the project and questioned the impact it would have on Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital. Allen said he doubted that Mohan would have signed off on the tax breaks.
"I'm very disappointed," said Irv Levy, Exigence's chief financial officer. "It puts the project at risk."
Levy said the Exigence project would not compete with emergency rooms, but offer residents a faster and cheaper alternative for less serious illnesses and injuries.
"These are forward-looking projects," said C. Anthony Lyons, a vice president for Catholic Health Systems, which would become a partner in the project if the Exigence facility obtains a certificate of need from state officials that would allow it to accept Medicaid patients.
Urgent care facilities typically operate in off-hours, when many primary care physician offices are closed, such as on weekends and from 3-11 p.m. on weekdays. Patients at an urgent care facility typically are treated in less than an hour, while waits can often reach four to six hours at emergency rooms for patients with less serious conditions, Lyons said. In addition, a visit to a hospital emergency room can cost upwards of $1,000, while an urgent care facility typically charges around $175, he said.
"We're available when you don't have access to your primary care office," Levy said. "This project is a good project. It's in the public interest. . . . The public benefit has already been demonstrated on Transit Road."
Allen said Exigence can reapply for tax breaks after it compiles additional information that addresses the concerns raised by the board.