St. David’s could attract more medical services in LeanderSt. David’s HealthCare broke ground mid-May on its first Leander facility nearly one year after the health care provider announced plans to open a freestanding emergency department and future hospital in the city.

The 52-acre Leander property is located between US 183 and Toll 183A north of San Gabriel Parkway. David Huffstutler, president and CEO of St. David’s HealthCare, said the health care system planned to expand into Leander for the past four years.

“We’re initiating this project in response to rapid growth in the area, and we’ll develop it in phases as the area continues to grow,” Huffstutler said. “We look forward to partnering with the Leander community to ultimately bring them a full-service hospital.”

Officials with St. David’s, the city of Leander and the Leander Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Center celebrated the official groundbreaking on the site. Leander Mayor Chris Fielder read a proclamation during the groundbreaking ceremony declaring May 11, 2017, as “St. David’s HealthCare Day” in the city.

“As Leander continues to grow, there is an increased need for access to health care in our city,” Fielder said. “St. David’s is one of the largest health systems in Texas with a wonderful reputation for quality care; we are grateful for the investment St. David’s is making in our community and are pleased to welcome them to Leander.”

The health care facilities will be constructed in two phases. Huffstutler said the first phase, the freestanding emergency center, is expected to open in fall 2017. The 11,200-square-foot freestanding emergency department is expected to have 10-12 rooms, and the future full-service hospital is expected to accommodate up to 80 beds.

Huffstutler and several other medical professionals said the construction of the St. David’s facilities will likely lead to an overall increase in health care access across the city.

Trend of increased care
During the first year of operation of the freestanding emergency department, St. David’s plans to hire 25 employees, including nurses, imaging personnel, laboratory personnel, registration staff and support personnel. Once the future hospital is online, St. David’s plans to hire more than 200 employees, according to the health care system.

All that new activity is likely to attract other complementary medical development, Huffstutler said. 

“In addition to physicians who want to focus around the hospital, you’ll have companies who do laboratory services, or imaging companies, durable medical equipment organizations, things like that that have a logical affinity to and relationship to the hospital,” he said. “So those end up locating around a hospital like this. I would anticipate the same thing [happening at this hospital].”

He said the trend of other medical businesses moving nearby occurred around other St. David’s facilities in the Austin region. Locally, officials with the Cedar Park Regional Medical Center said the same trend occurred in Cedar Park.

The regional medical center opened in Cedar Park nearly one decade ago, and Cedar Park Economic Development Director Phil Brewer said the city has seen the impact of its presence.

According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, 41 active physicians were practicing in Cedar Park in 2007—the year Cedar Park Regional opened­—and that number increased to 177 in 2017. The medical center not only influenced area physicians, Brewer said, but also other nearby medical buildings such as emergency rooms and urgent care.

“Part of [the increase in medical options] is driven by the demand and population, but I would attribute, at least the first few years when the hospital got operational, most of that was probably being driven by Cedar Park Regional Medical [Center],” he said.

Brad Holland, the CEO of the regional medical center, said the hospital is proud to have played a role in encouraging the growth of health care in the area.  He said part of the medical center’s original vision for the health care campus was to create a medical hub.

“Over the last 10 years, I think [Cedar Park] has seen a lot of community spinoff and ancillary development associated with the health care facility that we have,” Holland said. “We focus on building services around us that are medical services, but ancillary and peripheral businesses are enhancements to communities that aren’t directly related to hospitals, but like to be around hospitals.”

Austin Regional Clinic officials said the health care provider saw the benefit of locating nearby the hospital. In 2007, ARC already had two facilities operating in Cedar Park—one for primary care and another for pediatrics, ARC Chief Operations Officer Laura Wills said. Since the Austin health care team knew the regional medical center was coming to Cedar Park, she said ARC began crafting plans to open a multispecialty building next to the hospital that would offer OB/GYN, a general surgeon and two internal medicine physicians.

“It was specifically because the hospital was going to be there to be able to support those specialties,” Wills said.

Primary care physicians typically serve a region first, she said, followed by an increase in specialty care services, urgent care and emergency rooms, and hospital services.

The space around a hospital tends to become a medical center because of all the other surrounding businesses, said Lynae Harrison, ARC senior operations director. During the past decade, she said ARC has seen an increase in new emergency rooms and urgent care centers, physician offices, and specialty offerings—such as dentist offices and nursing homes—built near the regional medical center.

“As soon as a hospital gets established and patients are aware of where it’s at, then you start to see all types of health care facilities pop up around it,” she said. “And that’s great for us and our patients, it makes it a lot easier to coordinate care in all different arenas.”

She said the proximity of the hospital and health care specialties allows for close collaboration between heath care resources. For example, Harrison said, if a urologist was working on a case and needed a surgeon, they could collaborate with ARC and then complete the procedure at the hospital.

Aside from the logistics of collaboration, Wills said the creation of a medical hub benefits local patients since they know the medical staff likely lives within their own community.

“To me, that too adds to the comfort level of patients,” Wills said.

St. David’s could attract more medical services in Leander

Expanding health care in Leander
As Leander grows in population, local officials expect medical opportunities to increase in the city.

Prior to the construction of the Cedar Park Regional Medical Center, Brewer said Cedar Park residents did not have a go-to large-scale location for their health care needs. He said residents instead had to travel to Round Rock or North Austin for hospital care, but the need to travel ceased when more health care services came to the area.

“I think the vision years ago was that the hospital was going to create this synergy, and we’re going to see more medical care come to Cedar Park,” he said. “It’s the vision of being a full-service city, of being able to have all of the different practices here in the city that allows our citizens and residents to get their health care locally instead of having to go out of town to get it.”

Brewer said Leander should also anticipate that type of medical growth.

One possible opportunity for more access to health care in Leander could come from the Williamson County and Cities Health District. Executive Director John Teel said he hopes to open a public health center in Leander by the end of 2019.

The health district has four county clinics in Cedar Park, Georgetown, Round Rock and Taylor. The centers provide services such as screenings and treatments, wellness exams, physicals, vaccinations and flu shots, but they do not provide routine medical or emergency care.

More than 1,000 residents with a Leander address received health care services from the health district in 2016, according to available data. Of those residents, 64 percent traveled to the Cedar Park health center, 33 percent to Georgetown, 2 percent to Round Rock and 1 percent to Taylor.

Teel said his goal is to serve all Leander residents in need with a local service center. He said no health district money has been set aside to purchase land, construct a building and provide the health care services, but Teel will work with members of the community to look for partnership opportunities.

“I want to talk to every health care entity that either has land that they’re going to build on or already has something in Leander,” he said.

Teel said he hopes the development of St. David’s future facilities will encourage more health care businesses to move into Leander and increase access to health care in the city. According to the health district’s 2016 Community Health Assessment, access to healthcare was one of the top health priorities identified as a need in Williamson County.

He said one of the biggest barriers between residents and health care services is a lack of transportation, and he said the coming St. David’s facilities will have a direct impact on access to medical care.

“It’s just exciting to me that something is happening, dirt is turning, stuff is coming up out of the ground that literally aligns with what our community said are our biggest issues,” he said.

The health district may not be the only entity looking into medical opportunities in Leander. During the May 11 groundbreaking ceremony, Bridget Brandt, the president of the Leander Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Center, said a developer immediately came to Leander to look at land right after St. David’s announced it was coming to the city.

“He’s just one of the many that are going to follow suit,” she said.