Our city faces some critical questions about the future of Saratoga Hospital. Resistance by its neighbors to its acquisition of property for a planned medical office building has been ferocious. It is understandable why the neighbors who abut the property fear its impact, but the coverage has confused some key issues which need to be addressed because many are unaware of just how important the Hospital’s plans are.
An Essential Institution For Our City
In 2015 the city adopted a Comprehensive Plan that acknowledged the importance of the Hospital to Saratoga Springs. In the section titled “3.1 Economic Strength and Stability” item 3.1-3 recommends:
Support the viability and growth of the community’s unique institutions (e.g. Skidmore College, Saratoga Hospital, SPAC, Saratoga Spa State Park, and the race tracks)…
In fact the 1960 Master Plan and 1970 Comprehensive Plan also address plans by the Hospital to expand and the need to plan for future expansions.
The Hospital contributes critically to the health (pardon the pun) of the city. Obviously it provides critical healthcare but it is also a major employer in the city. The spinoff of the incomes it generates are an important element to the vitality of our downtown. It also has an impact on property values. Having a top notch hospital within the city is a consideration for people deciding to live in this community.
The Viability Of Our Hospital Should Not Be Taken For Granted
This year news stories reported that Glens Falls Hospital’s financial condition had deteriorated to the point of crisis. A story in the March 3, 2019, edition of the Post Star Newspaper led with “Glens Falls Hospital is in dire financial trouble…” In a rapidly changing environment in the health industry with the costs of equipment and care constantly rising, maintaining the viability of a large and complex institution like a hospital requires skilled management. This community would be reckless to simply assume that our Hospital will always flourish. That explains why the city’s Comprehensive Plan asserts that the city must be proactive in supporting “the viability and growth” of Saratoga Hospital.
To set a context for the proposed Hospital expansion, consider its recent meteoric growth as shown by the following statistics: In 2005 physician visits at the Hospital were 116,899. In 2018, thirteen years later they had risen to 304,930. They basically tripled. Between 2005 and 2019 net revenue rose from $109,884,412.00 to $369,110,417.00. These numbers reflect a stunning rate of growth.
Probably the best way to dramatize the Hospital’s growth is to compare the following pictures. The first was taken some time in the 1950’s. The second is a recent image. It is important to note that these only show the structures that face Church Street. They do not include the many other offices at other locations. In fact, in order to address the critical need for space, some of the offices now located at the main site are going to be moved to the Wilton Mall.
I know that the critics of the Hospital expansion will seize on the Wilton Mall location to further their argument that the Hospital has other options for growth but that misses the fundamental point. It makes common sense to focus critical care in a single location. Yes, ancillary activities can be farmed out to other locations but critical care needs to be centralized.
The area proposed for the medical office building not only makes sense today but perhaps more importantly allows the Hospital to have options to address future needs. A responsible management team must be thinking long term. These parcels are the last pieces of undeveloped land contiguous to the Hospital and have too much potential for the Hospital to have passed on the opportunity to secure them.
Saratoga County’s continued growth and the expanding nature of healthcare require that management think not only about current needs but also the needs of our community for decades to come. Such was the view of planners more than half a century ago when they wrote the 1960 Master Plan and the 1970 Comprehensive Plan. We are the beneficiaries of that foresight.
A Dose Of Reality
In her Readers View piece in the Saratogian, candidate Patty Morrison describes the area where the Hospital wants to build in bucolic terms. An innocent reader might think that the expansion is a threat to the greenbelt. In fact the land is actually zoned for residential development and currently allows for the building of single family homes on quarter acre plots. This is not a fight over the greenbelt.
Anyone who has followed my blog over the last few years knows that I have been a fierce defender of neighborhoods threatened by inappropriate development. Decisions by the land use boards in the past were heavily weighted against the wishes of residents and in favor of developers whose upscale housing projects intruded on neighborhoods and served the interests of profits for the developer rather than the public interest. To my mind, there was extensive abuse, particularly by the Zoning Board of Appeals.
I believe this Hospital proposal is different, however, from the conflicts over development projects such as Downton Walk on Jumel Place. The Hospital is a not for profit institution that provides service to the community and maintaining its “viability and growth” as our Comp Plan states is in the interest of the community at large. This is not a project designed for the benefit of a wealthy few.
It is essential of course that the city’s Planning Board rigorously insist that the design of the Hospital’s project take into account the quality of life of the residents who will be impacted. Issues of buffering, lighting, runoff, traffic, etc. need to be rigoously addressed. I have enormous respect for Mark Torpey who chairs the Planning Board, and Mayor Kelly has made new appointments to the land use boards who are independent of the development industry. To the extent possible, I believe the impact of the project on the neighborhood will be mitigated.
We live in a culture with an ethos of “take the money and run.” Long term planning is too often the victim of short term needs. Later people wonder as to why no one earlier saw this disaster or that coming. This Hospital is going to continue to grow. The question we, as a community, must ask is “will it grow smart?”
We need to think about the future of our city and the key role we will want our Hospital to play. I encourage people to support the Hospital’s proposed expansion.