Area hospitals pour in millions in investments

Forest Park Medical Center Acquisition

Forest Park Medical Center Acquisition

In the past year, the Round Rock and North Austin areas have seen the groundbreaking of a cancer center, new telemedicine investments at Seton Medical Center Williamson and the acquisition of Forest Park Medical Center Austin by St. David’s Healthcare.

Health care professionals say Round Rock and Central Texas are places to invest in health care because of its fast growth as well as shifting demographics.

St. David’s President and CEO David Huffstutler said the hospital system is investing in the area because of  Williamson County’s substantial growth.

“One hundred and fifty seven people moved to the area every day last year, and there’s no evidence that migration will cease,” he said.

Greg Hartman, president of external affairs and network support services for the Seton Healthcare Family, said the area is attractive for health care investments because Central Texas is not only growing, but also getting older.

“Central Texas and Austin has always had a young feel and vibe about it, but the reality is we’re one of the fastest-growing cities in the country for folks who are older than 65,” he said. “[The trend is] called ‘the silver tsunami.’”

Dr. Rob Watson, chief medical officer for Baylor Scott & White Health’s Austin/Round Rock region, said the system looked closely at the area’s demographics, and the hospital’s cancer center, which is currently under construction, was a natural evolution of rapid growth.

“Our demographics in the area—which were very strong in terms of growth—were also strong in the sense that, unfortunately, a significant number of patients in our community will get cancer, and we wanted to be able to service the full spectrum of their needs,” Watson said.

New St. David’s campus

Huffstutler said growth led to space constraints at St. David’s North Austin Medical Center, which in turn led to the acquisition of Forest Park Medical Center on SH 45 N just south of Round Rock.

“We have some pretty significant capacity constraints in North Austin,” Huffstutler said. “This [acquisition] allowed us to add capacity quickly.”

Huffstutler said St. David’s is not seeing space constraints at its Round Rock facility yet, but he foresees it happening in the future.

“We’re committed to growing in Central Texas,” he said. “This [acquisition] is one piece of a broader communitywide strategy to make investments in this area. We’re committed to our mission of extending health care in Central Texas and working with communities in North Austin and Round Rock to provide more services to more people.”

Huffstutler said purchasing the nearly 150,000-square-foot FPMC Austin for $115 million expedited St. David’s NAMC expansion plans by 18-24 months. St. David’s announced the purchase and its plans for the new campus May 13.

“[St. David’s NAMC] has been a rapidly growing campus for us, and we anticipate that will continue,” he said. “What this does is it is a bit of a relief valve for other growth that would be different from the activities that we expect housed here. It would free up capacity at North to grow other areas of our business and other clinical areas.”

The purchase price includes almost 9 acres of land and the 80,000-square-foot medical office building that St. David’s will use for some of its activities and also lease to other physicians, Huffstutler said.

St. David’s anticipates opening the new campus in the fall. Before opening, St. David’s will hire about 130 employees to staff the new facility and get state licensing, Medicare certification and accreditation, he said.

Similar to the original intent of FPMC Austin, the campus will be an elective surgical facility. The campus will have an emergency department, but if patients need more complex care, they will be transferred to St. David’s NAMC, Huffstutler said.

Cancer care facility

The Baylor Scott & White system broke ground in March on a $49.9 million, 100,000-square-foot, four-story cancer center in Round Rock. Watson said the center is unique in offering the full range of oncology services.

“There are obviously other radiation centers and other cancer clinics out there, but when you look at combining all of those things together—connecting them to the depth and breadth of physicians, research and clinical trials [at the center]—I think it will be unique to this market,” Watson said.

The site, which will open in fall 2017, will provide services for radiation oncology, medical oncology, surgical oncology and hematology as well as social services, nutritional services and genetic testing to assess hereditary cancer risk. The new facility will be located at the southwest side of Baylor Scott & White Medical Center-Round Rock at 300 University Blvd., Round Rock.

Technology at Seton

Hartman said Seton is trying to spread the access to health care throughout the area. To do so, he said Seton has reopened the Women’s Center at Seton Williamson, increased the number of RediClinics that can be found in H-E-Bs and made investments in telemedicine at Seton Williamson.

“The old model [of medicine] was [...] try to get people in the hospital as often as possible, and that’s where you get your money,” he said. “Now it’s about how do you take care of folks on the front line and avoid the cost of care.”

Kristi Henderson, vice president of Innovation and Virtual Care at the Seton Healthcare Family, said Seton is looking at ways to use telemedicine to enhance in-person care.

Henderson said Seton is equipping its hospitals with telemedicine to connect patients to physicians as well as doctors to specialists. She said doing so involves a major investment in new technologies so telemedicine goes “beyond FaceTiming.” She said Seton is using equipment that allows doctors to listen to a patient’s heartbeat or breathing electronically.

“An example is if you’re a diabetic, the doctor may put you on medicine, and you come back six months later and you find out it didn’t work,” Henderson said. “Now [with remote monitoring technology] we can examine [the effects] in real time day to day. We’ll be able to say, ‘This [medicine] isn’t working,’ instead of waiting and delaying the intervention.”

Hartman said the telemedicine investment is about bringing down the costs of medicine as well as finding better ways to treat patients.

Hartman said health investment is about more than just real estate.

“[Real estate investments will] always be important, of course,” he said. “But it’s about so much more than that. Technology, and in particular telemedicine, we think are really disruptive influences in terms of the way health care is delivered.”

By Amy Denney

Managing Editor, Austin metro

Amy has worked for Community Impact Newspaper since September 2010, serving as reporter and senior editor for the Northwest Austin edition as well as covering transportation in the Austin metro. She is now managing editor for the 10 publications in the Central Texas area from Georgetown to New Braunfels. She enjoys spending time with her husband, son and two cats.