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Medical reuse offered for Sheehan Primary care facility seen as closing nears

The Sheehan Health Network is scheduled to close May 31, but a group of physicians has offered a proposal to reuse the building for medical services.

The Michigan Avenue health facility, which treats some of the city's poorest and most underserved patients, announced last month that it could no longer financially sustain itself.

The state Health Department approved a plan to close the hospital, which includes the transfer of patients to other medical organizations.

Meanwhile, the group of physicians has a preliminary plan to maintain the downtown building as a state-licensed health center that concentrates on primary care.

But their proposal also suggests the possibility of other services, including some types of same-day surgeries, as well as different models of providing care, such as becoming a federally qualified health center or affiliating with one of the two existing federally qualified centers in Buffalo.

Federally qualified health centers receive higher reimbursement from the government in exchange for providing fairly comprehensive basic medical services regardless of a patient's ability to pay.

"We feel there is a need for a culturally sensitive health center that is primary care based. We also feel we can and should try to preserve the jobs," said Dr. Raul Vazquez, who operates the Urban Family Practice on Buffalo's Lower West Side.

Officials at Sheehan Health Network declined to comment directly on the closure process or the status of the proposal from the doctors' group, the Greater Buffalo United Accountable Health Network.

Sheehan spokeswoman Jennifer J. Parker said the organization is currently focused on ensuring that the closure goes smoothly, including the transfer of patients and their records to other health care providers.

"We're reviewing the proposal. There will be more time [in May] to determine the future of the building," Parker said.

Any reuse of the building would require state approval, including submission to the state of a certificate of need, a process that looks at whether a project is needed in a community and if those behind it have the financial resources and appropriate experience.

The 15 physicians involved in the proposal have yet to seek approval of a certificate of need and would likely do so after the closure, Vazquez said, adding that the group hopes to include other health-related organizations in the plan to make it more robust.

Sheehan provides primary care, diagnostic services, and alcohol- and drug-dependency treatment and rehabilitation to about 10,000 patients, on both an inpatient and outpatient basis. It currently employs 147 people.

The medical facility, whose origin dates from 1884, has faced financial problems for many years. In the early 2000s, for instance, it filed for bankruptcy twice before emerging from bankruptcy in 2006.

In 2007, Sheehan Hospital changed its name to Sheehan Health Network and reorganized its mission to focus on primary care, laboratory and diagnostic services, substance-abuse treatment and disease-management clinics in the neighborhood.

email: hdavis@buffnews.com