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Saint Agnes to unveil hub for primary care in Catonsville

After nearly six years, Saint Agnes Hospital’s vision for a centralized hub of community-based primary care services is finally falling into place.

The Baltimore hospital announced Tuesday its plan to consolidate several of its physician groups into one location: a 38,000-square-foot health care clinic in Catonsville scheduled to open in March. In addition to primary care, the center will also offer appointments with a variety of specialists as well as imaging and lab services.

“It will give us the ability to deliver a more complete level of service to our patients outside the hospital setting,” said William Greskovich, vice president of operations and capital projects.

The project will also help Saint Agnes adapt to a new hospital revenue model — sometimes called the “Medicare waiver” — being implemented in Maryland. The new model encourages hospitals to find innovative ways of caring for people in the community, rather than in the hospital itself, where providing care is much more expensive.

Other hospital systems in the area are working on or have recently launched similar projects, but this center will be the first of its kind for Saint Agnes. And, officials said, it’s been a long time coming.

Several years ago, the hospital hatched the idea to build a centralized primary-care facility that would align with its ideas about the importance of preventive medicine, Greskovich said. But finding a suitable location proved incredibly challenging.

Last fall, after years of scouting for a site, hospital officials finally stumbled upon a former retail center known as 40 West Plaza at 6501 Baltimore National Pike. It was in the right area to serve Saint Agnes’ existing patient base, Greskovich said, and large enough to meet the hospital’s needs, while allowing room for growth.

But the facility isn’t designed for medical purposes and will need to be completely gutted. Including construction and medical equipment, the total price tag will likely be $6 million to $6.5 million, Greskovich said.

Lutherville-based MacKenzie Commercial Real Estate Services LLC represented the hospital in securing a 10-year lease on the building. The project’s architect is RTKL Associates, a global firm based in Baltimore.

Saint Agnes owns 43 physician practices in the Baltimore area, including a dozen primary care groups. Of those 12 practices, three will move into the new center, bringing 15 doctors with them.

“Those practices are some of our busiest; they have the demand for more space right away,” Greskovich said.

Another 10 to 12 physicians in a variety of specialties — including cardiology, dermatology and orthopedics — will do rotations in the new center.

The facility is designed to be a “patient centered medical home,” or PCMH, meaning that different specialists collaborate to care for each patient. The PCMH concept has been quietly lurking in corners of the medical community for many years, but national health care reform has recently brought the idea to the forefront.

And in Maryland, a number of PCMH pilot programs are underway, thanks in part to financial incentives established by the state’s new revenue model. The new model encourages providers to keep patients healthy, whereas the old “fee-for-service” model created an incentive to perform more procedures and schedule more appointments.

“We’re all aware of [the new revenue model] and the impact of that,” Greskovich said. “We’ve embraced the PCMH model for the last 15 years and have emphasized primary care as way to see patients in the appropriate setting first. The whole goal is to keep the patient healthier so they aren’t seen unnecessarily in the hospital. And we’re excited about the incentives now aligning for doing that type of work.”

There are advantages for patients, too. Greskovich said physicians working in the new center will be able to provide more coordinated care in a settings that’s more convenient for patients, particularly if they need to be seen by multiple specialists.

In the PCMH model, each provider works with a panel of patients, who will be able to request unscheduled visits during extended operating hours. But for the most part, the center will be appointment-only.