Doctors’ Center Hospital’s multi-million dollar emergency room annex, currently under construction at Stop 20 in Santurce, is still several months away from completion but management already is counting on it to boost the hospital’s visibility.
The annex, to be connected to the hospital via a skybridge, will replace the current in-house ER that one executive described as “too hidden away” for the public at large to be fully aware of its presence.
Insufficient visibility “limits the hospital’s opportunities,” said Operations Director Alex Santiago.
Once delivered by contractor Aireko Enterprises in December, the new ER should open to the public sometime during the first quarter of 2013. Based on hospital projections, it is expected to draw 31,000 visits per year, more than double the current number.
Santiago said the project represents an investment of $5.7 million, of which $4 million alone is for construction and $1.7 million covers the purchase of equipment. Factor in the cost of the land and the total investment zooms to $8.3 million, to be self-financed through the health care institution’s private banker, Santander Securities.
Santiago said management paid $2.5 million for the 3,000 square-meter parcel on which it is building the 16,000-square-foot facility that will be connected to the hospital’s main building, situated behind the new ER, by way of a 50-foot-long, 8-foot-wide, covered sky bridge. The main entrance to the hospital is actually two streets down from the new ER.
Expanding islandwide footprint
Doctors Center, formerly known as Doctors’ Community Hospital, is owned by a privately owned company founded by Dr. Pedro Blanco Lugo and Dr. Antonio Abreu; Blanco’s son Carlos A. Blanco Ramos, is presently CEO and sole stockholder. The company, which began in 1959 with a small hospital in Manatí that grew in size over time, subsequently went on to acquire the Matilde Brenes Hospital in Bayamón in 2006, and, in 2007, the one in San Juan.
The Manatí hospital, according to the company website, is the only institution in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean currently equipped with an Endosuite, a fully integrated, voice-controlled operating room where surgeons have direct control over all the equipment through their voice.
The company also operates an emergency room in Arecibo and was recently contracted by the Mayor of Carolina to manage a new hospital that the municipality will build over the next two years at a cost of $40 million. The hospital, to be known as San Fernando de la Carolina Hospital, will become the fourth health care institution in the Doctors’ Center Hospital group.
Hopes hang on new ER
A lot of hopes hang on the new San Juan ER. That’s because management feels the hospital’s growth is being reined in it by its physical location. Tucked away at one end of San Rafael Street, a quiet corner off Fernandez Juncos at Stop 20, Doctors’ Center suffers from having a low-key presence in a working-class area that is poised for growth once the new Walmart multi-level store opens next year at nearby Stop 18.
More than half of the hospital’s clientele, or 55 percent, are patients covered by the government-paid health insurance program, previously known as “Reforma” but now called “Mi Salud.”
The ER building is certain to thrust the hospital out into the open. The new facility — a boxy two-story structure set off by rows of long, narrow windows — is right on Fernandez Juncos, a thoroughfare that can get busy at different times of the day.
“In the past, Doctors was the best hospital in San Juan and we want to bring it back to that standing. Up to now the Emergency Room has been hidden away on San Rafael Street and a lot of the public not around at the time of the Community Hospital doesn’t really know where it is and this limits the hospital’s opportunities,” said Santiago.
In addition to boosting the hospital’s business, the new ER will also create employment opportunities. Santiago anticipated that once the emergency facility is fully operational, the number of employees will probably double.
Plans call for fast, dependable facility
“From our point of view, San Juan needs an ER that is fast and dependable, whose priority is to provide top quality and speedy attention to patients, and that is equipped with the best physical infrastructure and most advanced technology for accurate diagnostics,” said Santiago, in answer to questions submitted in writing by News Is My Business.
He said the ER will be equipped with a CT (CAT Scan), conventional X-ray machines and other top of the line medical equipment.
The Doctors Center Hospital group, with a combined total of 513 beds in use and close to 2,000 employees, handles 200,000 visits per year, with 115,000 coming in through emergency, according to Santiago. The number of admissions for the group is 30,000 per year.
“We are operating with a profit,” Santiago said while acknowledging that the company faces “many daily challenges.” The biggest one, he said, is the “style of business of medical plans, especially Medicare Advantage, a model that promotes bad medicine and keeps patients away from the hospital and does not permit patients to receive the best care.
“When a patient arrives to our hospitals, they arrive with illnesses that offer resistance to our treatments and as a result the hospital stay is longer. Medical plans see hospitals as the enemy because of the cost of hospitalizations but the reality is that we are necessary for the care of patients,” he said, going on to note that next year looms as even more challenging in the aftermath of the upcoming presidential elections.