WOONSOCKET – A fast-growing network of primary care providers that promises better healthcare outcomes for Medicare clients with complex conditions is planning to open its fourth treatment center in Rhode Island at Diamond Hill Plaza in the fall.
Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt said Oak Street Health is working with the city to take over roughly 7,000 square feet in the plaza that used to be leased to Super China Buffet.
The move not only offers the region's senior citizens with an new, innovative healthcare option, Baldelli-Hunt says, but marks the continued transformation of the Diamond Hill Road area, once dominated by retail, into a robust zone of mixed uses, including healthcare, entertainment and lifestyle businesses.
“It's really exciting what's happening in that area,” Baldelli-Hunt said. “The storefronts are getting filled. The traffic counts are up. There's been great momentum in that area and it's just continuing to build.”
In addition to confirming the arrival of Oak Street Health, the mayor said the doors of another company – this one in the biotherapeutics industry – are slated to open for the first time in early August. CSL Plasma, which had announced in February that it was building out a 13,000-square-foot site at neighboring Walnut Hill Plaza, specializes in collecting human plasma to produce a family of highly specialized, blood-based therapies for an assortment of medical conditions.
CSL Plasma promises to pay plasma donors up to $400 a week, depending on how often they're able to give blood. Plasma is the chief component of blood.
Founded in 2012, Illinois-based Oak Street Health represents a model in healthcare delivery for older adults that hasn't been tried in northern Rhode Island before. The company promises to deliver improved healthcare outcomes at lower cost than traditional primary care-centered medicine for patients who are on Medicare, the government health plan for adults over 65.
As seniors age, their health issues can grow increasingly complex, yet accessing care can become more challenging in a system where services are often fragmented. Oak Street Health addresses the issue with a menu of wraparound services for patients who pay on contractual basis.
On its web-based promotional materials, Oak Street Health says patients can expect to spend more time with physicians in person and through telehealth visits – a type of tech-supported healthcare session that's become practically mainstream during the COVID-19 pandemic. Oak Street Health also offers a 'round-the-clock support line, individualized prevention plans, exercise programs, Medicare education classes and – for eligible patients – transportation to and from medical visits.
Though Oak Street Health has been in business just eight years, it now operates more than 50 locations in eight states, including Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Texas, North Carolina and Tennessee. In Rhode Island, it already operates two other clinics in Providence and one in Warwick.
And the company is positioning itself for more growth in the near future. In fact, the first point Regional Vice President Gregory Sciarra made when contacted by The Call for comment about Oak Street Health's plans for Diamond Hill Road was that he couldn't say much about them, because the company has a pending application to go public with the Securities and Exchange Commission, which restricts what the company may say publicly until the federal regulators take action.
According to documents that are easily searchable on the web, however, Oak Street Health filed an application with the SEC on July 10. It is seeking to raise up to $100 million in stock through a still-unscheduled initial public offering that will be traded on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol OSH.
Despite the SEC restrictions, Sciarra said the company is shooting to open the Diamond Hill Road facility by November.
According to the company's web site, Oak Street Health chooses locations to launch clinics that typically have a high concentration of Medicare patients in areas where the data shows an insufficient number of primary care physicians to care for them.
It also says it has been around long enough to prove that patients in traditional healthcare settings are more likely to end up in a hospital than those enrolled a plan of treatment and followup managed by Oak Street Health.
“Since its founding in 2012, Oak Street Health has seen a 51 percent reduction in patient hospital admissions compared to Medicare benchmarks,” the company says.
Though the company focuses on Medicare patients, it accepts many different kinds of insurance at all of its locations, it says.
“Quite frankly, I had never heard of them before they called my office looking to set up a meeting,” said Baldelli-Hunt.
After doing her homework on the company, Baldelli-Hunt says she's intrigued by its health care model and says the offer of providing transportation to patients could turn out to be critical for many older city residents who are either unwilling or unable to get behind the wheel to see a doctor.
“It's important to make sure certain patients are not skipping appointments because they have trouble getting to the doctor,” the mayor said. “This will be an entirely new addition to the types of healthcare services that are available in this area.”
Baldelli-Hunt says Oak Street Health's plans represent one less vacant retail pad in an area that's undergone significant reinvention since the exodus of Walmart, Lowe's and other brand-name merchants on what was predominantly a retail strip – and that's a promising trend.
While some retail has come back and some has relocated within the zone – Dunkin' Donuts and Ocean State Job Lot are just a couple of examples – the future of the shopping district is looking increasingly like that of a mecca of mixed uses.
The blend includes not only health care and biotherapeutics, but lifestyle businesses, a house of worship, recreation and government services. Some of the newest tenants include Waters Church, located in the former Mark Steven Factory Outlet; Aero Trampoline, which took over a portion the former Shaw's supermarket; the state Division of Motor Vehicles, which set up a modern branch of the Registry of Motor Vehicles in a former McDonald's; and Planet Fitness, another successor to the Shaw's floors-space.
Some of these enterprises aren't selling merchandise, but Baldelli-Hunt say they bring “human capital” to the area that will drive business at other stores that are.
And relocations like that of Job Lot represent real economic growth because the company dropped a lease to invest in its own building, purchasing the former Walmart.
“It is a big deal,” says Baldelli-Hunt. “That's economic development.”
Follow Russ Olivo on Twitter @russolivo