Contra Costa Times: John Muir Health opens new $40 million 'one-stop-shop' outpatient center

Joyce Tsai

WALNUT CREEK -- With the economic uncertainties of health care reform still looming, it can be a tough time for hospital systems to sink millions of dollars into the opening of a new medical center.

But John Muir Health officials are taking that leap Tuesday with the opening of a new $40 million outpatient center, knowing the new center reflects the advance of health care reform.

The center is at 1450 Treat Blvd., next to the John Muir Health corporate offices, near the Pleasant Hill BART station,

The new 144,000 square-foot outpatient center will embrace the future of health care and the Affordable Care Act, offering a so-called "one-stop-shop" for care, said Lee Huskins, president of the John Muir Physicians Network.

"Today you have to go to a bunch of different places to get treated. If you break your leg, for instance," he said, "you'd have to go to the emergency room or urgent care center to get your leg treated, and then go to another office for follow-up care and X-rays ... now, you can go to just one place."

The refurbished former Bank of the West building will consolidate many medical services under one roof to offer more convenient and coordinated care. Nearly 30 clinicians, including 27 physicians, and 75 support staff will be working there by opening day, relocating from offices across the city. Eventually it will house 43 physicians from primary care to speciality care under one roof. Also more than 250 administrative staff will occupy the center's third floor.

The center will also offer an urgent care care center, as well as in-house X-ray and lab services, and pediatric and senior health services, behaviorial health, weight management, bone density and "medical home" services, all in one building.

John Muir officials are embracing the philosophy that by placing side-by-side so many health care services, it should result in more patient convenience and a more coordinated and efficient level of care.

More coordinated and cost-efficient patient care is a keystone of the Affordable Care Act, which emphasizes fixing the often fractured nature of traditional health care delivery -- in which different medical offices, all treating the same patient, can be located across a city and not always communicating well with each other.

The urgent care clinic at the center will be open every day, helping to free up nearby emergency rooms from potentially long wait times and overflowing waiting rooms, said Dr. Maureen Stevenson, chief operating officer of ambulatory services at John Muir Medical Group. She is an internal medicine physician moving into the new center.

The center also will be equipped with the electronic health record system Epic -- another health care reform capstone, which means patient records will be paperless and immediately accessible via computer throughout the health network. That also leads to improved case management, Huskins said.

Rebecca Rozen, regional vice president for the Hospital Council for Northern and Central California, said such centers can help better coordinate patient care. The Affordable Care Act is pushing hospitals and doctors to coordinate and provide better case management systems for patients, especially those with chronic issues.

Steven Shortell, a professor at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, also said that the establishment of more "one-stop-shop" outpatient centers are a sign of what's to come -- even though in California, the Kaiser Permanente managed care organization has been doing something similar for years.

"Very definitely you are going to see a lot more of this," he said, "because the financial incentives and pressures to do (so) ... are growing not only in California, but across the country.

"And in the long run, if (health systems) do a better job of coordinating care, it will be more profitable for them, because they are increasingly under pressure to prevent re-hospitalizations and better manage patient care."

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