Johns Hopkins announced yesterday an agreement with Patient First of Richmond, Va., to develop a dozen "immediate care" medical centers, stretching from Montgomery County to Harford County, over the next three to four years.
Hopkins will become an investor in Patient First, a privately held, for-profit business, said Dr. John D. Stobo, chairman and CEO of Johns Hopkins HealthCare, the Hopkins entity developing health networks. Stobo declined to disclose the size of Hopkins' investment.
The centers, open 14 hours a day, provide no-appointment care to patients who do not have a regular doctor or whose doctor is unavailable. They also offer related services such as labs, X-rays and pharmacies.
The centers in Maryland will carry the Patient First name, Stobo said. He said Hopkins expects that its name will be used in marketing -- any use is subject to Hopkins' approval -- but plans are not complete.
The deal will increase Hopkins' presence in Maryland suburbs. Already, Hopkins has a medical facility at Green Spring Station in Baltimore County, which contains a Patient First center, and a cooperative arrangement with Suburban Hospital in Bethesda. And it has contractual arrangements with hundreds of specialists and nearly 1,000 primary care physicians outside its East Baltimore campus. Other Baltimore hospitals also have suburban outposts; for example, Sinai Hospital recently announced a center in Carroll County.
Such a suburban presence, Stobo said, is important in assuring that Hopkins will "continue to have access to patients," not just to fill hospital beds but for its teaching and research functions.
Hopkins will be a "preferred provider" for referrals from the new Patient First centers, but the arrangement is nonexclusive, said Stephen A. Storey, senior vice president and chief financial officer of Patient First. That means, he explained, that referrals will also take into account insurance coverage and patient preference as well as Hopkins affiliation.
Patient First has six centers in the Richmond area, and four in the Tidewater area of Virginia, according to Storey. Financing is in place to bring the number to nine in each of those markets, he said.
Also, Storey added, "We are currently negotiating with another group, not Hopkins, to do 15 centers in another mid-Atlantic metropolitan market." He declined to provide further details, other than to say the potential partner was not an academic medical center like Hopkins.
"More than anything, we're looking for entry into new markets," he said.
"We're looking to partner with groups that, in the final analysis, are the "A" player in that market. It could be a payer, it could be a hospital system."
The first new Maryland centers should open in nine months to a year. Storey said the plan was to develop centers "from Anne Arundel and Montgomery, through Howard and all the way around to Bel Air."
He said each center costs about $2 million to build, contains 7,000 to 10,000 square feet of space and employs the equivalent of about 35 people (typically, 55 to 60 people, some working part-time).
Neither ambulatory care centers nor a general suburban strategy is a proven winner for hospitals, said Russ Frank, vice president of business development and corporate strategy for Greater Baltimore Medical Center in Towson. His hospital opened a center in Parkville in 1985 and in Towson in 1986, and closed both in 1989.
He said it is not clear that suburban facilities actually increase admissions for urban hospitals, and that the new centers would face competition from existing facilities and new "fast-track" emergency room services planned by his and other hospitals.
But William H. Wenmark, president of the National Association for Ambulatory Care and owner of several centers in the Minneapolis market, said such centers are growing in numbers and in popularity with managed-care insurers, who see them as a way to avoid costly and inappropriate use of hospital emergency rooms.
Nationally, he said, there are about 12,700 such centers, compared with about 8,400 five years ago.
Pub Date: 10/10/96