Getting to the heart of the problem

October 5, 2009
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Three local nonprofit organizations will break ground in a few weeks on a new $20 million center that will expand their offerings and originate a new model of integrated care for low-income residents throughout the city.

The Heart of the City Health Center is the collaborative brainchild of Cherry Street Health Services, Touchstone innovare and the Proaction Behavorial Health Alliance. The center will be a multi-story, 82,000-square-foot, LEED-certified, medical office structure in the “heart” of the city. The building will go up on Cherry Street between Sheldon and LaGrave avenues, and on top of a 400-space underground parking structure.

“The ground slopes, so the visual presentation of the building will be about a three-story building, even though there are only two stories of office space,” said Greg Dziadoz, executive director of Touchstone innovare, which provides a variety of mental health services.

Dziadoz said the center will allow Cherry Street Health Services to enlarge its pediatric, vision and adult clinics and add a new dental clinic. A short-term out-patient counseling center also will be located on the building’s first floor, along with a pharmacy. Touchstone and Proaction will position their programs on the second floor.

“It will really be a health care mall,” he said.

Proaction President Michael Reagan said his organization will first locate some of its adult mental health and substance abuse outpatient services at the center and then add other services. He said the mental health and substance abuse services aren’t first in line just because Proaction wants to expand those programs.

“These certainly could benefit from expansion. But I think what is driving us to do this is, it helps us — even with the population we currently serve and potentially could serve there — to provide them with more comprehensive care.”

“We really have some confidence that the integrated care will deal with the multiple health needs that a lot of our client population presents — both their mental illness and substance abuse disorder as well as the often physical health care problems.”

While Cherry Street will take care of the physical ailments, Touchstone and Proaction will treat the wide-ranging mental-health needs of their clients.

“And we’re hoping that all of those services will be connected with each other, not just because they will share a building but because the people involved will work together,” said Dziadoz.

Both Reagan and Dziadoz said the main reason the three organizations are coming together under one roof is that they have clients with multiple chronic disorders. For example, some suffer from depression and diabetes, while others may have bipolar disorder and a cardiopulmonary illness.

“We’re looking at creating a multi-disciplinary team of health care professionals dedicated to helping people manage one or more chronic health condition. So the focus will be on primary care and specialty care around their specific diagnosis,” said Dziadoz.

“It’s not unusual that, as a direct result or as a consequence of their behaviors, they have other health care problems that need as much attention as their mental illness or substance abuse,” said Reagan.

Another effort all three will engage in is “health coaching.” The idea is to create a desire within their clients to take better care of themselves on their own and hopefully relieve some of the anxiety and depression that accompanies their physical problems.

“So that’s a pretty innovative thing that we’re trying to do,” said Dziadoz. “We’re trying to do a little leapfrog of how things are now, to really get into the future of effective chronic care management.”

Cherry Street, Touchstone and Proaction are doing business for the project as Cherry Stone LLC. The firm is using a local tax-increment reimbursement, state and federal tax credits, money from the federal stimulus package, a loan from Chase Bank and a $3 million public fundraising campaign to finance construction.

As the project’s architect, Design Plus has found that the Cherry Street site has a few unique characteristics. 

“The property line is parallel to the street, but the street doesn’t run straight east-west, so there is a slight angle to the property. The property also drops from the west to the east down in elevation about 6½ feet,” said James Horman, a partner at Design Plus.

The change in elevation hasn’t hindered the design, however, nor should it make the construction cumbersome because the below-ground parking facility will level the building’s playing field, so to speak.

“Because of this drop in grade, we’re able to have vehicular access to the subterranean parking from the east, or off LaGrave, and our pedestrian traffic comes in at floor level on grade at the Sheldon Street location,” Horman said.

Construction is expected to take about 15 months. The center should open in late 2010 or early 2011.

Cherry Street, Touchstone and Proaction made the final decision to go ahead with the project early this year, but had spent the previous 18 months cultivating the idea.

“So at this point, we’ve been into it at least two years. We’ve got another year and a half to go before the building opens. It is quite an undertaking,” said Dziadoz.

“We surprised ourselves at how much we needed to convince ourselves that it was not only the right thing to do but that it was possible to do it, which was a lot of work, and now we’re ready to commit ourselves to making that happen.”  HQ

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