by Dan Rafter
Minneapolis’ The Opus Group has already made an impact in the healthcare sector: Opus has served as the developer or contractor for healthcare projects across the country, including such notable ones as the Kohl’s Wellness Center in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin; Columbia St. Mary’s Gateway Health Center in West Allis, Wisconsin; and a 354,000-square-foot office building extension for UnitedHealth Group in Minnetonka, Minnesota.
It makes sense, then, that The Opus Group has formed a new healthcare division to focus solely on delivering projects for hospitals, physicians groups and other medical providers.
Tom Shaver, the newly appointed president of Opus Healthcare and a 31-year commercial real estate industry veteran, said that the time was right for Opus to create a formal division to handle the changing real estate needs of healthcare providers.
Shaver said that there are several trends today that are disrupting the healthcare system. This includes an aging population that needs more medical care and a rise in the number of people who now have health insurance thanks to the Affordable Care Act.
Then there are the evolving demands of patients: Many no longer want to treat any but their most serious ailments at large, centrally located hospital campuses. Patients today want to receive fast treatment at ambulatory care centers and other smaller, neighborhood clinics.
And why not? Going to a big hospital’s emergency room can be an all-day hassle of long lines and interminable paperwork. Going to a neighborhood clinic might require just an hour-long stop in a busy day.
These three key factors are changing the way medical providers think about real estate. More are interested today in building smaller outpatient-centered clinics.
This created an environment in which it made sense for Opus to formally build a healthcare division, Shaver said.
“As we looked at the disrupters in this industry, it became clear during our strategic planning process a few years back that we should pursue healthcare in a more purposeful way,” Shaver said.
A changing sector
Opus Healthcare is wading into a healthcare real estate environment that is in the middle of several major changes.
Shaver says that medical providers are moving toward a retail model of providing healthcare. This means that there has been a shrinking footprint around the traditional hospital campus. Providers are embracing the clinic and ambulatory strategy of scattering smaller care centers in the neighborhoods and communities that they serve.
This has been a positive for consumers. Hospitals and medical providers if they want to remain attractive to today’s patients must be willing to provide them with more options for receiving care, Shaver said.
“You as a consumer of healthcare have more portability today than you did 10 years ago in managing your own health and wellness,” Shaver said. “Consumers are becoming more discerning in who they use as their healthcare provider for whatever illness they are dealing with.”
This means that consumers instead of driving to the middle of the city to a crowded emergency room, might be able to drive a mile to a neighborhood clinic affiliated with that big-city hospital to treat the same ailment.
Technology, too, is having an important impact on the medical field, Shaver said. Telemedicine is becoming more popular, giving patients the chance to receive treatment — or practice preventative care — online or through a phone call. Some medical providers are experimenting with wearable technology that helps them remotely monitor the health of their patients.
All of this combines to make visits to hospitals and their emergency rooms less frequent for many patients. The goal, Shaver says, is for everything from telemedicine and neighborhood clinics to handle most routine medical care while hospitals are reserved for the most serious of illnesses and injuries.
A boom in health insurance
Shaver said that medical providers have to be creative in how they treat patients today. That’s partly because there are so many more potential patients out there.
Shaver says that in 2013, there were an estimated 40 million to 45 million U.S. residents who lacked health insurance. In the next 10 years, because of the Affordable Care Act, that number will drop to roughly 20 million to 23 million, he said.
“You have a significantly larger percentage of the population getting insurance and using the healthcare environment for health and wellness,” Shaver said. “That will put more pressure on the system. It will translate into an even bigger focus on the hub-and-spoke concept of healthcare, with the hospital as the hub and the ambulatory care centers as the spokes.
“We need more efficient, more flexible and more clinical care out in the communities to handle the traditional maladies that exist for patients,” Shaver said. “That will hopefully free up the hospitals for acute care.”