As Baton Rouge officials consider the formation of a health care district in the area around Perkins Road, Essen Lane and Bluebonnet Boulevard, they heard Tuesday from the head of a Buffalo, New York, district that is serving as a national model.
“Where you’re at is where we were in 2002,” said Matthew Enstice, president and CEO of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. “You have all the bones there. The question is how do you put it all together to create a great opportunity?”
The Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus Inc. was created in 2001 and is made up of nine “member institutions” — including a lot of the same elements that would be a part of the proposed south Baton Rouge health district. Those elements include a large nonprofit hospital system that’s one of the region’s major employers; a nonprofit biomedical research facility; a cancer research, treatment and education center; private medical practice groups; and a large public university.
Since it was formed, the BNMC has grown from 7,000 employees working in a 72-acre downtown campus, to a 120-acre campus that is expected to have 17,000 jobs there by 2017. Last year, the University at Buffalo broke ground on a $375 million medical school in the BNMC. In the next 15 to 20 years, the university plans to relocate the remainder of its health sciences programs to the campus, including degree programs in nursing, public health, pharmacy and dentistry.
In Baton Rouge, potential components of a proposed medical district so far could include a four-year medical school, nationally recognized clinical research centers for diabetes and obesity, and new dual-degree programs at LSU that would prepare doctors for careers in health technology fields.
The medical corridor, which will be the subject of a Wednesday public meeting, was identified as a key district in need of redevelopment in the FutureBR comprehensive plan, which was established in 2011. The Baton Rouge Area Foundation is overseeing the master plan for the corridor. Since January, consultants with Perkins+Will have been getting comments from key stakeholders, such as Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, General Health Systems, Woman’s Hospital, Ochsner Medical Center, Pennington Biomedical Research Center and The Neuromedical Center.
“Our original 10-year plan was basically done in seven or eight years,” Enstice said of the BNMC. “We set out lofty plans and the pieces started to fall together because the core group was working together to capitalize on it.”
There was a lot of skepticism when Buffalo leaders started to work on the medical district. It wasn’t a silver bullet for economic development, like bringing in a large manufacturing plant or tech-centered company. But during the first few years, the heads of the institutions got together regularly to discuss issues and see where they could work on common projects and put aside their competition for patients.
“Getting CEOs and chairmen in a room talking, it takes a while to see the upside,” he said. “But it’s there.”
By getting people to work together on common goals, and capitalizing on opportunities, it led more projects to come Buffalo’s way. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently announced the “Buffalo Billion” economic development program, aimed at priming the region for investment. And a New York City foundation has asked Enstice to figure out a way to replicate the BNMC in other cities.
“People wouldn’t be investing in this stuff if they didn’t see a payoff,” he said.
The key for any city with a health district is to make sure that the huge economic driver of a regional hospital or a medical school creates jobs and spin-off opportunities to help the entire community as a whole, Enstice said.
“As we get further into this age of electronics and technology, the question is: ‘What’s in the next generation of jobs and how do we connect people to those opportunities?’ We want to create an environment for the next generations to be successful.”
A public meeting to discuss the Baton Rouge health district will be held from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Perkins Road Community Park, 7122 Perkins Road. Reservations can be made at BRHealthDistrict.org/RSVP.
If all goes well, the first printed documents outlining plans for the medical district could surface in November, officials have said.
Follow Timothy Boone on Twitter, @TCB_TheAdvocate.