With a web of a dozen-plus outpatient clinics stretched across four South Florida counties, UHealth, the University of Miami Health System, extends far beyond the hub of its three hospitals in Miami’s Civic Center neighborhood.
But one area in particular has eluded UHealth’s reach, perhaps ironically: South Miami-Dade, specifically Coral Gables, which is home to the bustling UM campus, and one of Miami’s most affluent suburbs.
Now UHealth wants to change that, in a big way.
Administrators for the health system on Monday unveiled plans to build a four-story, 200,000-square-foot outpatient center on UM’s Coral Gables campus that will house some of UHealth’s best “brands,’’ including the top-rated Bascom Palmer Eye Institute and the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, as well as a number of medical specialists.
UM will break ground on the new center, to be located at Ponce De Leon Boulevard and Dickinson Drive, this summer, with an estimated completion date of 2016. The new center is expected to cost $140 million to construct and build out with medical equipment and other infrastructure.
Joe Natoli, a UM senior vice president and interim chief operating officer for UHealth, said the health system wants to bring its brand of academic research-based medical care closer to residents of South Miami-Dade, particularly the estimated 18,000 students, faculty and employees who visit the university’s campus daily.
“We draw significantly from South Dade today,’’ Natoli said of UHealth’s patient base. Patients, he added, “want to go to the best doctors, and they want a convenient, positive experience, and not everyone wants to come down to Miami.’’
To be sure, South Miami-Dade already has a wealth of healthcare facilities.
Baptist Health South Florida — the region’s largest healthcare system with six hospitals and dozens of outpatient centers in Miami-Dade, Broward and Monroe counties — long has dominated the region. And area residents long have enjoyed the convenience of having five Baptist Health hospitals in the area, and a sixth in nearby Tavernier.
In fact, two Baptist Health hospitals already surround UM’s Coral Gables campus, with Doctor’s Hospital to the north, and South Miami Hospital to the south.
But Richard Ballard, chief executive of the Sylvester Center, said UHealth’s new Coral Gables outpatient center will provide patients access to something only UM can offer: Academic research conducted by clinicians and scientists at the Miller School of Medicine.
UHealth has about 960 clinical trials taking place through its medical school at present, said Lisa Worley, a spokeswoman, and patients enrolled in the system will have access to those studies.
“We really feel that’s a differentiation for us,’’ said Ballard, noting that Sylvester’s outcomes for certain cancer treatments exceed the national average among hospitals participating in the National Cancer Database, a nationwide oncology outcomes clearinghouse of more than 1,500 cancer programs across the country.
Such outcome measures, and the reputations of UHealth specialists, are likely to be part of the marketing message for the outpatient center.
“The goal is to bring the expertise of our outstanding Miller School physicians and researchers to more patients,’’ said Pascal Goldschmidt, dean of UM’s Miller School of Medicine and chief executive of UHealth, in a written statement.
In fact, the goal is to grow UHealth by expanding its geographic reach, said Allan Baumgarten, a healthcare policy and finance analyst.
Baumgarten said health systems across South Florida are building new outpatient centers across a broader geographic area as a way to “feed” or drive more patients to their primary hospitals when more acute care is needed.
“These are spokes coming out of the hub,’’ he said. “Creating these new points of presence is a strategy to welcome people into the system and then be positioned to help them migrate, depending on the need for more high-end care, to those locations where that can be offered.’’
The challenge for large healthcare systems now, Baumgarten said, is maintaining and growing their patient bases at a time when inpatient admissions are declining.
Healthcare systems such as UHealth also have to position themselves for changes brought about by the Affordable Care Act, which will tie hospital reimbursements to quality measures, patient satisfaction and health outcomes while rewarding operational efficiency.
Like health systems elsewhere in the country, UHealth is branching out of the city’s core and into the suburbs, Baumgarten said, where residents are more likely to be insured.
“They’re choosing that geography in large part because they see that as a location where the population is going to have generally strong comprehensive benefits,’’ he said.
According to the U.S. Census, the median income for a household in Coral Gables from 2008 to 2012 was $85,183, compared to $29,762 for Miami.
With a larger medical presence on the university campus, UHealth also will benefit from the daily presence of thousands of UM faculty and staff, whose employee health plan provides incentives for them to use the system.
UHealth’s network of outpatient centers in suburbs such as Plantation, Boca Raton and Naples already is driving much of the system’s growth.
“It’s the primary segment of our business,’’ Ballard said of outpatient services.
Ballard said nearly half, or 47 percent, of all medical care delivered by Sylvester’s radiologists, oncologists and other specialists takes place at one of UHealth’s outpatient clinics.
“Basically, we’re out of space at the main campus,’’ he said, “and we’re basically full at the satellites.’’
UM typically keeps its financial reports confidential, but Natoli said that UHealth facilities and physicians represent a little over half – or about $1.4 billion – of UM’s approximately $2.7 billion operational revenue.