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From Retail To Recovery: Former Storefronts Become Outpatient Facilities

From Retail To Recovery: Former Storefronts Become Outpatient Facilities

Your neighborhood Sears could soon become a new healthcare facility. 

Across the U.S., more than 70M SF of retail space is expected to close in 2018. Former big-box retail giants have announced they will shutter hundreds of stores. In Florida alone, five Macy’s stores, 12 Kmart stores and 10 Toys R Us stores are closing their doors. Property owners and managers, now looking to fill these vacancies in a short period of time, have turned to healthcare providers to take over these spaces. 

As the demand for microhospitals, free-standing emergency rooms and outpatient facilities grows, bringing healthcare closer to the patient, vacant storefronts could provide a cost-effective strategy for expanding a healthcare system’s network into local neighborhoods. While former shopping locations provide an attractive alternative to larger hospitals and medical facilities, they require a different construction and operational strategy. Unlike traditional hospitals, these spaces were originally built with a different vision in mind.

“When a hospital is built, everyone knows what it will be used for, and what requirements are needed for the building,” EBI Consulting Environmental Health & Safety Group Business Development Manager Bob Foster said. “But when it comes to moving outpatient facilities into these former retail developments, the challenge is that these are not built from scratch to be healthcare facilities, so you have to be careful and modify a lot of what’s there to fit the needs of a healthcare environment.”

Foster advises healthcare facilities and hospitals on how to maintain a safe environment for patients. He and his team work with facility managers to ensure they are complying with the healthcare industry’s standards and practices. 

From Retail To Recovery: Former Storefronts Become Outpatient Facilities

Every healthcare facility is mandated to participate in periodic inspections in order to maintain accreditation. The same restrictions apply for traditional hospitals and outpatient facilities. Because retail sites-turned-outpatient care facilities weren’t initially built with these restrictions in mind, it can be more of a challenge for the people who occupy these spaces to ensure they are meeting the requirements put in place to keep patients and visitors safe. 

“In a former shopping center, you need to make sure the HVAC and mechanical and electrical plumbing systems can handle the specific requirements that a surgical suite requires, and that’s not always that simple,” Foster said. “In operating rooms, you want clean, filtered air coming into that space and flowing out, because that keeps contaminants from coming in. In a place like Florida, where it gets very hot, you need to have cool air, but that’s not the same air system that, say, a bakery would have. When you’re working with healthcare facilities that once had a different function, these are things you need to keep in mind.”

Despite these challenges, several hospitals in Florida are opening up shop in empty shopping centers, and for good reason. Outpatient facilities cost patients one-fifth of a visit to the emergency room, the Sun Sentinel reported. Holy Cross hospital recently opened an urgent care center in a former mattress store in Boca Raton, and another in a former Blockbuster in downtown Fort Lauderdale. 

These facilities have an opportunity to be successful, as long as they are executed well, Foster said. As microhospitals bring healthcare services closer to patients, the industry is continuing to make surgeries and procedures more accessible. 

“It’s all about planning,” Foster said. “The key is making sure facilities meet industry requirements by allowing enough time to make planning decisions and hiring contractors who are familiar with healthcare regulations. When done correctly, these spaces can serve as an attractive alternative to expensive and inefficient hospitalizations.”

This feature was produced in collaboration between Bisnow Branded Content and EBI Consulting. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.