Saint Peter’s Healthcare System celebrated the opening of its new Health and Wellness Center in Somerset at the beginning of May. However, the provider had already been a resident of 562 Easton Ave. Previously, Saint Peter’s Sports Medicine Institute occupied the first floor of the building.
According to Bonnie Saunders, manager of physical rehabilitation services at Saint Peter’s Health and Wellness Center, when the upstairs tenant moved out, Saint Peter’s had the vision to expand throughout the entirety of the space and to put the focus on rehabilitation.
Work to transform the 22,000-square-foot property began in March 2022 and the move-in of services was completed a year later, Saunders told NJBIZ. According to Saint Peter’s, the construction and renovation project cost $6 million.
“A lot of the mission of the hospital really has been to make the outpatient services more accessible to the community,” Saunders explained. “And we had quite a few of our outpatient rehabilitation services—the PT, OT and speech were located in the center of the hospital.”
And while “center” might seem imply the location was easier to get to, as Saunders explained, it kind of had the opposite effect.
“People had to park in the garages, walk through the whole hospital to get to our areas,” she said. “And it created some barriers for parents with young children. Also … older patients or patients with strokes that maybe couldn’t walk as easily.”
Aside from seeking to meet patients where they are, Saunders said the consolidation of all the outpatient rehabilitation services in one location just makes sense. Those include adult and pediatric programs for: physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech and language therapy, and audiology.
“We’re keeping a whole service line together,” she said, adding that the incorporation of an ear, nose and throat practice complements those offerings. “[T]hey do a lot of work with audiology,” she pointed out. “There’s a lot of collaboration between those service lines.”
As examples, Saunders mentioned children that may need ear tubes or patients with vestibular and balance issues.
“They are seen by an ENT. They also are then referred to audiology. They’re also then referred frequently to vestibular PT. And now we have all of that housed in one building,” she said, describing the situation as a “really nice collaboration.”
The new environment is also serving to foster community among its visitors.
When pediatric therapy services were at Saint Peter’s University Hospital in New Brunswick, Saunders said the waiting room was small. “And it did not lend itself well to families kind of connecting and kids connecting,” she said.
“Well now in our new building, here on the second floor where the services are located, we have this beautiful big waiting room. And what we have seen happen in the waiting room at times seems as therapeutic as what’s happening in the treatment room,” Saunders explained. “Because in the waiting room right now, like my staff has been telling me, and I’ve seen it happen on a few patients myself, where the family [or] the mom will be sitting in waiting for their kids that are in back getting treatment and they will start talking to each other.”
Those kinds of connections are particularly important, Saunders added, bearing in mind that a lot of these pediatric patients have special needs. “And so, all of a sudden, the parents are starting to talk to each other and they’re like, ‘Wow, you have that and how do you do this?’ And that kind of thing.”
And that sort of “therapy” is mirrored in the children, as well. Saunders said they will interact in the waiting rooms, creating little friendships and little connections.
“Just by being here in this building—our services have not changed, the quality of services. It’s still the same,” she explained. “But the environment itself is lending itself to be more therapeutic, if I can say that. Just by the environment.”
According to Saint Peter’s, visits across PT, OT and speech language therapy and audiology in 2022 totaled 21,882. A number that Saunders anticipates will increase in several areas this year due to increased space and services.
The Health and Wellness Center also houses Saint Peter’s otolaryngology practice – a medical specialty addressing conditions and disorders related to ear, nose and throat, including sleep apnea – led by Dr. Kianoush Sheykholeslami – known as “Dr. Shey” – otolaryngology surgeon and chief of ENT and head and neck surgery at Saint Peter’s University Hospital, and Dr. Diana Traquina, a pediatric otolaryngologist at The Children’s Hospital at Saint Peter’s University Hospital.
Based on the first quarter of 2023, the practice projects more than 4,500 annual visits, comprised of over 650 ENT surgical appointments and at least 1,600 new office visits.
According to Saunders, additional services at the facility include those for lymphedema, swelling in appendages caused by a lymphatic system blockage; the vestibular balance program; a specialty scoliosis program; and treatment for pelvic floor issues.
To offer all those services, Saunders said she has a staff, including per diem and regular workers, of about between 75-85 in her department.
Saint Peter’s isn’t alone in its investment in outpatient services facilities.
At the former Fort Monmouth, RWJBarnabas Health’s Monmouth Medical Center is redeveloping the previous Myer Center site into a new outpatient care facility. With a minimum capital investment of $153.5 million, according to Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Authority, the first phase of the project includes an approximately 138,000-square-foot development.
“We are working to create an outstanding experience by making high-quality services available when, where and how patients prefer,” Eric Carney, president and CEO of Monmouth Medical Center, said when plans for the facility were released in June 2022. “As an expansion of the MMC campus in Long Branch, the Vogel Medical Campus is located within the communities we already serve.
“It will be a future-forward facility uniquely tailored to meet the needs of our diverse and growing community,” he said.
In a February release citing its 2022 Healthcare and Medical Office Perspective, JLL projected “enormous growth” for these centers and the treatments they offer.
“As of September 2022, year-over-year outpatient revenues grew 30% since 2020 according to Kaufman Hall, while inpatient revenues only grew 8.5% in the same time,” the professional services firm said in the report.
Looking ahead, JLL said outpatient volume is forecast to grow 20.7% over the next decade. And there are several reasons for that.
“More sophisticated procedures can be done in outpatient settings than possible a decade ago,” JLL Head of Americas Work Dynamics and Industry Research Amber Schiada said in the release. “Innovation in care combined with reimbursement pressures are driving a sustained shift to outpatient facilities, and consumer preferences for outpatient care have increased as well, as outpatient facilities are often more accessible or conveniently located. Furthermore, experience shows that outpatient locations are less expensive to build and operate, produce better-quality medical outcomes and yield higher rates of patient satisfaction.”
An aging population is also a contributing factor. According to the Urban Institute, over the next 40 years, the number of Americans that are 65 years or older will more than double, hitting 80 million in 2040.
For Saint Peter’s, the expanded space at the Health and Wellness Center also allows the provider to make room in New Brunswick by moving those outpatient services from its main hospital to Somerset. So, at the acute care facility, services are also shifting some.
The system is looking into expanding and modernizing its intensive care unit, potentially before the end of the year, with possibilities for growth of the pediatric unit. “So, it just makes perfect sense to take those outpatient services out into a free-standing building and make way for those clinical beds, that clinical space that we need in the hospital,” Michelle Lazzarotti, Saint Peter’s senior director of marketing, told NJBIZ.
The Health and Wellness Center is also seeking to add to its services later in 2023. Saunders said a cancer rehab program has been taking shape for a few years that is looking to launch at the facility in the fall.
Saint Peter’s, which is sponsored by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Metuchen, recently held a blessing to commemorate the opening of the updated building.
In her remarks at the event, Saunders explained that everything that happens at the Health and Wellness Center is to optimize someone’s quality of life, no matter what stage of life that is. It’s about getting someone back to their own quality of life.
“I mentioned this to all the senior leadership that was there,” Saunders recalled. “[B]ecause these are the things that I feel like Saint Peter’s is all about. It’s all about heart and soul, about taking care of people. And it’s evident in them committing to this building.”