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New $6 million health center one of largest West Side projects

A new office for a physician practice at 564 Niagara St. is now seeing patients – and it represents some big changes.

The $6 million, 40,000-square-foot building that houses the Greater Buffalo United Accountable Healthcare Network is one of the largest projects on the city's lower West Side in recent years.

Physicians and other health care providers in the group who work there also are early adopters of newer medical group arrangements for coordinating patient care, and paying doctors for the quality, not just the quantity, of care they provide.

The building brings together in one place a host of services from different providers, including primary care, medical specialties, wellness and fitness programs, and behavioral health, said Dr. Raul Vazquez, the network's president and chief executive officer.

Vazquez, his colleagues and city officials were to hold a ceremonial ribbon-cutting Thursday following the opening of the building earlier this month. The group employs about 200 people.

“We're trying to put together an integrated health care delivery system," he said.

Among other things, the offices include a kitchen to teach healthy cooking, weight loss classes, a 24-hour health-line call center and personnel to help patients navigate the health system.

Plans are in the works for an on-site pharmacy and laboratory, Vazquez said. The idea is to use care teams to work closely with patients to get them all the services they need in the community, including those not typically associated with health care – such as food, housing and clothing.

“It’s a bricks and mortar representation of our mission – to transform health care by removing barriers created by social determinants of health in underserved communities," said Vazquez, a family physician who also runs the Urban Family Practice, which is a part of the network.

Founded in 2013, the network sees patients with all types of insurance, commercial and government-sponsored.

But its doctors also participate in fairly new arrangements for caring for patients and being paid for care.

One arrangement is a Medicaid health home, which was created in the Affordable Care Act as an option for states to offer as part of their Medicaid programs. A health home is not a place. Instead, it encourages a group of doctors and others in health care to integrate and coordinate all primary, acute, behavioral health and support services, including housing, food and transportation. The Medicaid health home is aimed at patients with serious chronic conditions.

In addition, an affiliate to the Greater Buffalo United Accountable Healthcare Network, the Greater Buffalo United Accountable Care Organization, sees Medicaid patients under a value-based payment arrangement developed in the state in which there are financial incentives to reduce unnecessary hospitalizations and emergency room visits.

The arrangement is part of a massive initiative in New York to reform Medicaid, the state-federal program that includes health care to low-income individuals. Medicaid also funds services to the disabled and the elderly in nursing homes.

"Health care is changing. We have to increase quality and cut costs, and we have to coordinate care. That's where the system tends to fall apart," Vazquez said. "We also have to engage patients to do different things to live healthier lives. The different models free up the resources to build that kind of infrastructure."

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