KALAMAZOO — Bronson Healthcare’s development of seven new medical office buildings throughout the Kalamazoo area accommodates the planned move next year of a medical group from a rival health system and deepens the organization’s presence across the market.
Some of the new offices for physicians and advanced care providers at Portage Physicians P.C. will supplement Bronson Healthcare’s primary care base. Other locations will fill market gaps and expand the health system’s primary care into new areas, including in Richland, Three Rivers and Galesburg.
“We’re extending the sites beyond our current footprint,” said Laurel Barber, the chief operating officer for Bronson Medical Group. “It allows us to work toward our strategic plan in ensuring good access to our community and to grow.”
In January, Bronson Healthcare announced it signed a five-year provider services agreement with Portage Physicians that takes effect on July 1, 2020. Under the deal, 29 doctors and 29 physician assistants and nurse practitioners who now practice at six Ascension Borgess ProMed offices in the Kalamazoo area will relocate and staff new Bronson medical offices.
The transition will end a 22-year business relationship between Portage Physicians and Ascension Borgess.
Bronson Healthcare will employ nurses and other support staff at the locations, which it will brand as Bronson Primary Care Partners.
Construction has already begun on five of the seven new medical office buildings. Bronson expects work to begin yet this fall on the two others.
The new medical offices are at:
• 6210 W. Main St. in Kalamazoo, behind Bronson FastCare
• 2700 E. Centre Ave. in Portage
• 601 S. U.S. 131 in Three Rivers
• 8808 Vineyard Drive at Texas Corners
• 8906 M-89 in Richland
• I-94 and 9th Street in Kalamazoo
• I-94 and S. 35th Street in Galesburg
“I think our patients are going to really come to love and feel cared for in those locations,” said Greg Schultz, administrator at Portage Physicians.
Of the seven locations, six will have 20 exam rooms and nearly 12,000 square feet of space. The 3,300-square-foot Galesburg location will have six exam rooms.
The CSM Group Inc. in Kalamazoo is handling construction.
Kalamazoo-based Diekema Hamann Architecture & Engineering LLC provided the architectural design, which leveraged the layout it used for the Bronson Family Medicine office on Helmer Road in Battle Creek. The design is intended to reduce patient wait times, improve staff and physician efficiency, and increase the amount of time patients spend with their doctors. Diekema Hamman won a 2018 Honor Award from the Southwest Michigan Chapter of the American Institute of Architects for the Helmer Road office design.
Barber could not say how much Bronson Healthcare is spending on the new medical offices, since the health system will own some locations and lease others, which are owned and being developed by a third party.
In state certificate of need filings in July, Bronson listed estimated costs for four of the locations — West Main, Vineyard Drive, 9th Street and I-94, and Richland — as ranging from $6.3 million to $7 million each. The four had a combined cost of $26.8 million, according to the letters of intent filed with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, which waived review of the projects.
The planned transition of Portage Physicians will help address a pressing need for more primary care providers and significantly extends Bronson Healthcare’s position in a market that includes Kalamazoo, Calhoun and Van Buren counties, where it presently has 126 providers.
Only 10 percent of Bronson Healthcare’s existing primary care providers are accepting new patients and its present medical offices “are virtually full,” Barber said.
Bronson Healthcare earlier this year launched the tele-health service Bronson ConnectVideo and operates FastCare walk-in medical clinics in Kalamazoo and South Haven, “but those don’t take the place of primary care,” Barber said.
“We have a demand in our community and we have to figure out how to meet that demand,” Barber said. “As we look at the use of FastCare and video visits, that will take away a little bit from some of the low-level visits that presently take place in primary care, and that may allow for us to accept more patients into the system.”
The transition of Portage Physicians next year “certainly helps a great deal” in addressing market demands, although Bronson Healthcare will still need to bring aboard more primary care providers as the Kalamazoo area grows.
“In Kalamazoo County, it does a great deal,” she said of the Portage Physicians affiliation. “We’re going to have to continue to evaluate (demands) because there are pockets in our community, in Kalamazoo County, that continue to grow if you look at some of the population estimates that are out there, so we just constantly keep an eye on that.”
Wave of investment
In planning the new offices, Portage Physicians wanted locations that were spread out across the Kalamazoo area, rather than centralized in a larger office.
“The reality is we wanted to be close to where our patients were and convenient on the roads they travel to work or school or back home,” Schultz said. “We’re really excited about having the state-of-the-art facilities for our patients that will be close to where they live or work and want to seek health care.”
Smaller medical offices also are “less intimidating” for patients to navigate than larger centers and “there’s a chance to develop closer relationships with the providers and the support staff when it’s a little bit more of a boutique location than a larger facility we’ve operated from in the past,” Schultz said.
The new medical office buildings are just the latest capital investment for Bronson Healthcare.
The health system plans to break ground next month on a new $22 million hospital in South Haven to replace an aging facility, and expects to develop a $60 million outpatient cancer pavilion in downtown Kalamazoo.
Bronson Healthcare also filed a letter of intent with the state in August for a $21.4 million, 17,000-square-foot ambulatory surgery center at 9th Street and I-94. The letter of intent serves as a preliminary filing for a full certificate of need application seeking review of a major capital project.
The health system’s board has yet to approve the project to move forward.