On a 15-acre site in Amherst, adjacent to the Northtown Center ice rink and across Millersport Highway from University at Buffalo’s athletic facilities, developers are approaching the homestretch in the construction of a new medical and surgical complex that is expected to become a destination for orthopedics and sports medicine in Western New York.
In fact, the first services within 716 Health – the name of the $63 million, 160,000-square-foot health hub – could open within the next couple of months.
Paul F. Ciminelli, president and CEO of project developer Ciminelli Real Estate Corp., said the new complex is “as good as it gets for orthopedics for Western New York,” capable of luring patients from Erie and Niagara counties and possibly Southern Ontario. And that was the vision that he and partner Dr. Brian McGrath, an orthopedic surgeon and the lead physician in the project, had when scouting potential sites several years ago.
“What they really wanted is to develop a building that brings a comprehensive approach to orthopedics,” Ciminelli said following a recent tour of 716 Health. “And you could see, based on all the tenants that have located here, you have the ambulatory surgery center, you have imaging, general surgery, orthopedics, PT, so it’s really a one-stop shop for orthopedics.”
McGrath said he expects UBMD Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine and UBMD General Surgery to open in the building in August, while Great Lakes Medical Imaging/UBMD Radiology should follow by early September. The complex’s two remaining tenants – Northtowns Ambulatory Surgery Center, to be operated by UBMD and Kaleida Health physicians, and a General Physician PC primary care office – are scheduled to open by spring 2024, he said.
This type of development is emblematic of where health care is headed as more care shifts from expensive hospital settings to more cost-effective outpatient centers. And at 716 Health, patients will gain access to various specialists and services all in one location near UB’s North Campus.
And it’s expected to be busy: The complex, which has about 800 parking spots, is projected to see 205 patients per hour, with roughly 445 employees working in the building daily. “This type of center is the future,” McGrath said.
But this center also has been divisive during its planning and development. For one, Amherst’s sale of the land for the development – which was previously home to sports fields – meant the town had to spend millions of dollars to replace football, softball and baseball fields. Some residents also opposed the developers receiving up to $3.7 million in tax breaks for the 716 Health project.
Project proponents, including Amherst Supervisor Brian J. Kulpa, have pointed out the development will provide new revenue for the town to upgrade its sports venues. Further, the complex bolsters a growing medical spine in Amherst – just 4 miles from 716 Health, Ciminelli is developing the $23 million Scott Bieler Amherst Center for Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. McGrath said the project, which will host UB-affiliated experts in care and academic research, should “represent a tremendous asset to the community.” “Our belief is as we expand with Supervisor Kulpa’s vision of the area, we plan to make this into a world-class place to play and practice sports,” he said.
‘All in one’
The groundwork for the project was laid around 2018, McGrath said, as UBMD Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine recognized it needed a larger, better oriented location than its current multi-floor site at 4949 Harlem Road in Amherst. The Harlem Road operation will be relocated to 716 Health, where UBMD Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine’s new space is 50,000 square feet on one floor.
For UBMD General Surgery, which will have 25,000 square feet at 716 Health, McGrath said the practice has increased its number of physicians through expansions and acquisitions under the leadership of Dr. Steven D. Schwaitzberg. “This will represent a culmination of that effort and trying to put them into one larger space as opposed to multiple spaces in the Northtowns area,” McGrath said. Similarly, Great Lakes Medical Imaging/UBMD Radiology, which will have 16,000 square feet at 716 Health, will relocate from the Park Club Lane building where Roswell Park is completing the Scott Bieler Amherst Center.
Primary care services at 716 Health will be provided in a second-floor, 30,000-square-foot space to be occupied by General Physician PC, a medical group affiliated with Kaleida Health. Robert Bragg, Kaleida’s vice president of campus development, said General Physician has around five locations in the Williamsville-Amherst area. The plan, he said, is to bring those sites together along with some other services, such as gastroenterology, at the new 716 Health space. “That’s an attempt to support growth, but also consolidate operations to one site, so we gain efficiencies with having one computer setup, for example, a consolidated management support team at one location versus six or five, so that’s really what we’re after on that second floor,” said Bragg, noting Kaleida expects the General Physician’s space to see its first patients by April 1. For a primary care physician, the building also provides a variety of services to which to refer patients. “Consolidation helps us to create a signature patient experience,” Kaleida Chief Medical Officer Dr. Michael Mineo said, “and also allows the patient to access all the services their physician wants them to all in one encounter, and go right from the doctor’s office to imaging to blood work and then back to the doctor’s office.”
‘Evolution of health care’
The 716 Health complex also is further proof of how health care delivery is changing. That’s especially true when considering the site’s roughly 39,000-square-foot Northtowns Ambulatory Surgery Center, which McGrath expects to open toward the end of the first quarter next year. With what Mineo calls “the evolution of health care,” health groups have to figure out how to provide high-quality but low-cost care, especially as a value-based care model shifts to the forefront.
“The strategy is take the outpatient services, consolidate it in a very patient-centric way, allow surgeries that can be done for a lower cost of care in an ambulatory environment, make sure they get done there with the highest of quality,” Mineo said. “But then also make sure that you have the hospital infrastructure for the patients that require more resources.” According to its state application, the ambulatory surgery center will be 50% owned by Kaleida while the other 50% will be owned by University Orthopedic Services Inc. (5%), University at Buffalo Surgeons Inc. (3.75%) and 33 individual physicians who each own 1.25%.
The multi-specialty surgery center will have seven operating rooms, three procedure rooms and four endoscopy rooms, according to the state application. The partners are projecting about 8,500 procedures in the surgery center’s first year, a figure that is projected to grow to nearly 9,400 by the third year open. As the number of procedures increase, the center’s net income is estimated to increase from about $811,000 in the first year to almost $2.9 million in the third year, according to the application.