On his last day as president and chief executive of NYC Health + Hospitals, Dr. Ram Raju presided over the groundbreaking of a $28 million ambulatory care center on Staten Island.
The 18,000-square-foot facility on Vanderbilt Avenue, in the Clifton section of the borough, is expected to open in the fall of 2017 and handle about 40,000 patient visits annually by 2020. It will include 24 exam rooms and provide services including OB-GYN, pediatrics, adult medicine, asthma and diabetes care, and podiatry. The site will also provide X-ray, mammography and ultrasound testing.
Raju announced Nov. 7 that he would leave the system Nov. 30, with Stanley Brezenoff taking over as interim chief executive.
The project is emblematic of Raju's efforts to steady the financially struggling system by expanding ambulatory care and attracting more patients who could be enrolled in the city-run MetroPlus health plan.
"Providing more ambulatory care to meet the needs of community residents is critically important for the future of health care in New York," Raju said in a statement. "The expanded access is expected to mean tens of thousands more patient visits each year, which in turn will reduce the need for costly emergency and inpatient care." He declined Crain's request for an interview.
The ambulatory care center is also a long sought-after project for Staten Island politicians who have complained about the lack of public health services in the borough. Brooklyn-based MJCL Architects provided the architectural plans and Axis Construction, a Hauppauge, L.I.-based firm, is the general contractor on the modular construction project.
"Any look at citywide health statistics will show that we need more primary care services here on Staten Island, especially on the North Shore," Councilwoman Debi Rose (D-North Shore) said in a statement. "When opened, this facility will meet the health care needs of local residents in a convenient, state-of-the-art setting, while alleviating the burden on our local emergency rooms."
During his tenure, Raju fielded heated questions from Staten Island lawmakers who felt neglected by the municipal hospital system as the only borough without a public hospital.
At a City Council budget hearing in May, Councilman Steven Matteo (R-Mid-Island) complained of overcrowding at the emergency rooms of Staten Island University Hospital and Richmond University Medical Center, and said Staten Island politicians had been forced to fight for capital funding in the budget to provide to the private hospitals because of Health + Hospitals' lack of involvement in the borough.
"We don't get the resources, we don't get our fair share, and that has been [the cause] of consternation and frustration for us on Staten Island," Matteo said at the time.
In response, Raju acknowledged the overcrowding at Staten Island hospital emergency rooms but said the new ambulatory care center will be better equipped to serve the 70% of ED visits that are for non-emergent conditions.
Health + Hospitals does operate two neighborhood health centers on Staten Island, in Stapleton and Mariners Harbor. It also has mobile medical vans that service the borough.
In January, MetroPlus received permission from the state to sell qualified health plans and essential plans to Staten Island residents, including Staten Island University Hospital and Richmond University Medical Center in its network. The health plan has about 1,600 members in the borough.
That represents just a fraction of the plan's 500,767 members citywide as of Aug. 1.
MetroPlus needs to grow its membership by about 8% this year to stay on target to reach 675,000 enrollees by 2020. That goal could become even more difficult if a Trump administration's policies affect New Yorkers' eligibility for Medicaid, the Essential Plan or qualified health plans.
All those challenges will land squarely on the plate of Raju's successor. City Hall has said only that its national search for Raju's permanent replacement is ongoing.
"NYC Health + Hospitals kicks off Staten Island project on CEO's last day" originally appeared in Crain's New York Business.