The health care industry is growing in Sugar Land and Missouri City, offering residents direct access to more services and new options for treatment and providing students and employees with training programs.

Several entities, including Memorial Hermann Health System, Houston Methodist Sugar Land Hospital and St. Luke's Health System have recently announced plans for expansions.

These expansions, coupled with the opening of several nearby imaging and surgery centers and private practices, have begun to make certain areas, such as Hwy. 59 between Sweetwater and University boulevards, resemble a medical facilities hub.

"It's making a real positive impact on the area—like a mini Texas Medical Center and a destination for treatments," said Regina Morales, director of economic development for Sugar Land. "It's also a draw for visitors from the west and south who come in for medical care."

Hospital expansions

On Sept. 25, the Memorial Hermann Health System announced a $93 million expansion in Sugar Land that will help offer that "convenience factor" people look for, said Greg Haralson, CEO of Memorial Hermann Sugar Land Hospital.

"Our specialists appreciate the ability to stay in the area to take care of their patients," he said. "Combine that with the fact that our patients are asking for more services to be offered locally, and it makes for a good marriage."

The hospital offers specialized care in orthopedics, pediatrics, cardiovascular and emergency medicine. In addition to these services, Memorial Hermann has expanded with additional ambulatory surgery centers, outpatient imaging, sports medicine and rehabilitation, and diagnostic laboratory locations throughout Fort Bend County, Haralson said.

The Memorial Hermann–Sugar Land expansion will be completed in three phases beginning with renovations and technology additions to the existing facility.

Phase 1 is slated to complete by mid-2014 and includes the addition of eight new beds to the hospital's Emergency Center, bringing the total to 26, along with the construction of a new surgical site. Additional space for future surgical sites will also be constructed.

Phases 2 and 3 are expected to break ground in late 2013 and mid-2014, respectively, and will construct about 220,000 square feet of space, including a new six-story patient tower.

Houston Methodist Sugar Land is also expanding, embarking on a $131 million expansion that will affect five facilities, including its first development in Missouri City—an emergency care center at Hwy. 6 between the Sienna Plantation and Riverstone areas.

Among the projects is a new patient tower that will add 104 beds, giving the hospital a total of 339 beds. The Houston Methodist patient tower will break ground in 2014, and it is expected to open in the first quarter of 2016. Ground breakings for the other projects began in October and will go into the summer of 2014, said Chris Siebenaler, CEO of Houston Methodist Sugar Land Hospital.

"There are a limited number of [emergency care centers] in Fort Bend," he said. "So this is a great opportunity to take what Methodist does best and support one of the fastest-growing [areas] in the country."

Fort Bend County has the potential to be an upcoming medical center as long as services and facility expansion continues, Siebenaler said.

"Fort Bend County has often lagged behind the community's need for health care, and with the population expected to be 700,000 by 2018, the expansion helps us better serve the community," he said. "There is still a 35 to 36 percent migration out to Houston for medical care, so we want to grow to meet the demand for more services that are comparable to the Texas Medical Center but close to where they live."

In late October, the St. Luke's Health System launched an integrative medicine program, taking a holistic approach to health care by combining traditional and alternative medicine. The program offers massage and yoga therapy, acupuncture and pet visitations for patients staying for extended periods at the Texas Medical Center hospital.

"We think that these additional services will greatly enhance the healing process for many St. Luke's patients," program manager Linda Cole said.

The hospital also added to its available services in early 2013 by opening the on-site Women's Center at its Sugar Land acute care hospital campus. The new Women's Center adds to the hospital's cardiovascular, imaging, emergency and surgery services.

Training the workforce

In 2006, University of Houston–Victoria opened its School of Nursing at the UH–Sugar Land campus, enrolling 24 students in its first semester. More than 200 students are enrolled for the upcoming semester, and about 110 students are set to graduate this fall—bringing the school's total number of graduates to more than 650 students. The increasing popularity in the nursing programs offered at the campus is a result of innovative curriculum and community support, said Kathryn Tart, founding dean of the UH–V School of Nursing.

"We have grown a lot," she said. "We have been very progressive and innovative in how we have educated our students and provided for the needs of the community. We are definitely a pipeline for our students, [and] it is all about working together."

UH–V has partnered with local hospitals and health care providers for training and internship opportunities, giving students hands-on experience. Available programs at the school of nursing include a master's degree in science and nursing and an MSN degree option that is coupled with an MBA from the Sugar Land campus' school of business.

"Our programs are offering baccalaureate and laureate education in areas of study where others are not," Tart said. "Our goal is taking care of people. There is a patient waiting for that care."