April 9, 2012 | last updated June 4, 2012 11:59 am

St. Francis seeks site at City Hall

HBJ PHOTO/GREG BORDONARO
HBJ PHOTO/GREG BORDONARO
Hartford City Hall is the planned location for a St. Francis Hospital urgent care center.

Connecticut hospitals have been opening urgent care centers at a dizzying pace in recent years to offer patients access to care that is closer to home and less costly than visiting an emergency department.

The suburbs have been the primary target for many new medical office locations. Now St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center is adding a new twist to the trend.

St. Francis is in negotiations with the city of Hartford to open a new 1,000-square foot urgent care center in City Hall on Main Street.

Under the terms of the proposed deal, which needs approval from the city council, St. Francis would invest $230,000 to convert ground floor space at City Hall into an urgent care center that will provide primary care services to city and state employees and their families.

Although it would only be a small space with a limited patient base, the new facility would give St. Francis the opportunity to finally plant a flag downtown.

The medical center has worked for years to try to become the first hospital to provide health care services in the city's central business district. In 2009, St. Francis signed a letter of intent to open a location in the proposed AI Technology Center envisioned for Constitution Plaza. But that 12-story, $40 million office tower never materialized.

The City Hall location may not offer the same visibility of being in a shiny new downtown office tower, but it is an initial beachhead and much less costly alternative.

In exchange for the $230,000 build-out, the city will not charge St. Francis rent, according to the proposal for a five-year lease.

Urgent care centers traditionally provide primary care as well as supplementary services, such as X-rays and low-level trauma treatment, to patients on a walk-in basis.

St. Francis's planned urgent care center will be more modest in scope and only serve city and state employees and their families, at least initially, according to the proposal.

Both St. Francis Hospital and the city of Hartford declined to comment for this story, saying plans are not yet finalized.

A public hearing on the proposal is scheduled for April 16.

According to an outline of the plan obtained by the Hartford Business Journal, the urgent care center's staff will include a receptionist, advanced practice registered nurse and off-site physician who will monitor the clinic's daily activities.

In the plan outline, city officials say the care center will help reduce medical bills, increase overall productivity, and decrease absenteeism by identifying and treating patient diseases at an early stage, assigning primary care physicians to employees that lack them, and reducing emergency room visits.

The goal, officials say, is to bring health care services closer to city and state employees and keep them out of the ER, which is considered a much more costly place to receive care.

Treatment will include diagnosis of common family illnesses, minor wounds, skin conditions, administration of vaccinations and screening for chronic conditions. If approved, the clinic would operate Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Across the country, urgent care centers are becoming one of the fastest-growing segments of the healthcare system, according IBISWorld, a California-based industry consulting firm.

IBISWorld estimates there are about 9,428 urgent care centers in the United States. Since 2007, industry revenue grew at an average annualized rate of 6.3 percent to an estimated $13.7 billion.

Caitlin Moldvay, an IBISWorld industry analyst, said in a written statement that one of the main factors driving growth for the industry is increasing demands being placed on primary-care providers, which is increasing patient wait times. That's driving patients to seek care alternatives.

The trend is forecast to continue, especially as more people gain insurance coverage under the federal health care reform law.

In Connecticut, medical office buildings have been sprouting up across the state, many used for different purposes.

The Eastern Connecticut Health Network recently opened an office in South Windsor's Evergreen Walk that will provide an array of women's health and wellness services. In Avon, developers are working on a $40 million commercial project that will include 50,000 square feet of medical space. St. Francis Hospital is under lease to occupy 10,000 square feet for physician offices, an urgent care service and a community room.

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