Westchester sees healthy growth in hospital construction

Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla. (Aug. 8, 2012)

Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla. (Aug. 8, 2012) (Credit: Leslie Barbaro)

The increasing medical needs of aging baby boomers and prospects under Obamacare have led to increased hospital construction in Westchester County.

Projects range from a satellite of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center to preliminary plans for a parking garage at Sound Shore Medical Center. More projects are in the works.

"If you go into any hospital today, pretty much most of them have construction going on," said Laurence Gottlieb, Westchester County's director of economic development. "Right now, you have the perfect fusion of demographic trends, bargain real estate and federal health care legislation all rolled into one enormous opportunity."


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The development is moving forward on two fronts, he explained. On the high end, a wealthy, aging population with top-notch health insurance wants premium services. At the same time, the market for low- and middle-income Americans will take off as President Barack Obama moves ahead with health care reform that will offer affordable health insurance to all citizens.

And the county, with its transportation network of interstate highways, rails and bus service, is looking appealing to nearby New York City hospitals.

"It's about geographic reach. They want suburban reach," said Kevin McCarthy, senior associate with the CBRE, a major commercial real estate services company.

'CROWN JEWEL'

With nearly 13 percent of all Memorial Sloan-Kettering cancer patients from the Hudson Valley, "the real issue is providing services where our patients live, they really want to be cared for close to home," said Victor Ribaudo, executive director of the hospital's regional care network. Some treatments can require daily visits in the course of six weeks, he added.

For 19 years, the formidable Manhattan-based facility has run a small, 20,000-square-foot chemotherapy and radiation site at Phelps Memorial Hospital Center in Sleepy Hollow -- which will stay open. But when the new, $129 million, 114,000-square-foot outpatient center at 500 Westchester Ave. opens in the first quarter of 2015, it will be the organization's largest suburban outpost, treating upward of 200 patients daily, Ribaudo said.

The highly anticipated center under construction on the former Verizon office campus will serve six counties: Westchester, Fairfield, Dutchess, Orange, Putnam and Rockland. With cancer viewed primarily as a disease of the aging, Ribaudo noted that although the population in those counties is collectively expected to grow 5 percent from 2015 to 2025, the number of residents 65 or older is expected to explode by 24 percent.

NORTH FROM TARRYTOWN

Montefiore Medical Center is leaving a larger footprint in the county.  At 141 Central Ave. in Hartsdale, the organization's fertility clinic has been joined by its newly opened fetal diagnostic center. 

And in early January, Montifiore expects to close on its $33 million deal to buy the 90-acre former Kraft Foods facility in Tarrytown. After pumping in $10 million to transform the complex's three aging buildings into modern offices, the hospital will take 574 workers from its Yonkers offices and an additional 380 from the Bronx -- and move them all to the newly renovated, 140,000-square-foot site by the third quarter of 2013, according to Ed Pfleging, Montifiore's vice president of facilities and real estate.

Meanwhile, the hospital's 200,000-square-foot offices at South Westchester Executive Park on Odell Plaza, home to its IT operations, will add 300 more jobs in the next three years.

Because the sprawling Tarrytown acquisition comes with 55 acres of undeveloped land overlooking the Hudson River and is minutes from the Tappan Zee Bridge, "There may be an opportunity for senior housing," Pfleging said. "Or we could build as we grow."

The hospital, which services mostly patients on Medicare or Medicaid, also is interested in tapping more lower-income users. With the coming of national health care, it is exploring future expansion in Mount Vernon and New Rochelle, Pfleging said.

DOWN THE ROAD

Other projects are hoping to rev up soon. On Wednesday, two hospitals received news of state funding to jump-start future expansion. The funds, which were awarded in a competition that will divide a $738 million pot among 725 economic development projects throughout the state, will give Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco a $1 million assist in doubling emergency room space.

At Sound Shore Medical Center in New Rochelle, another $1 million award will be used for seed money toward a $14 million project: building a multilevel, 530-space garage on a parking lot that now barely holds 148 parked cars.

"This was really the push to say that they're backing us and we can really do this," said hospital spokeswoman Amy Cassidy.

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