Steady growth in residential development is keeping the blood pumping in the Liberty Lake areas local economy, but now it needs medical attention, say some Spokane-area developers and hospital administrators.
Business still is doing fine in Liberty Lake, but the developers and hospital execs have diagnosed that the fast-growing Interstate-90 corridor between Spokane and Coeur dAlene, especially in the Liberty Lake area, is underserved as far as medical services are concerned.
Their prescription is the development of more health-care facilities.
As Liberty Lake grows and develops, people there want and should have medical services available to them, says Jack Riggs, a Coeur dAlene physician and an investor in a planned Liberty Lake medical complex. It doesnt make sense that they should have to travel for medical care.
Riggs project is one of three medical complexes that have surfaced at Liberty Lake just since Aprilall of which are expected to get under way within the next two months. Valley Hospital & Medical Center says its looking seriously at participating in one of them. St. Lukes Rehabilitation Institute is exploring the idea, too.
Demographicsfrom the last five years especiallydemonstrate incredible growth both east and north of Spokane. Also, if you interview physicians and patients, youll hear that people want health-care services close to home, says St. Lukes administrator Debra Hanks. Obviously, wed want to strategically look at that and see where St. Lukes fits in.
In the latest Liberty Lake medical project, Stewart Construction Co., of Coeur dAlene, plans to begin work on a $2.5 million, 20,000-square-foot medical office building later this month, says company owner Roger Stewart. The proposed two-story facility will be built on about six acres of land at the northwest corner of Mission Avenue and Harvard Road and will be owned by Stewart Construction.
Stewart says that he already has received signed commitments from a general practitioner, an internal medicine group, a dentist, and a physical therapy company that plan to lease space in the new building. He is finalizing agreements with potential tenants for the remaining space there, but declines to name the tenants.
Meanwhile, Riggs group plans to begin work soon on its project on a 2.5-acre site at the northwest corner of Appleway Avenue and Molter Road in Metropolitan Mortgage & Securities Co.s Liberty Lake Center business park. The building is expected to have a total of about 39,000 square feet of floor space, and is envisioned to house services such as urgent care, dentistry, physical and occupational therapy, and imaging. Tentative plans call for an extended-care center for the elderly to occupy a twin building that would be constructed later on an adjoining site.
Larry Haight, part owner of both Eagle Mountain Corp., a Spokane contractor, and of Liberty Eagle LLC, the third developer that plans to build a medical complex in Liberty Lake, says construction of his groups proposed medical complex, to be called Liberty Lake Medical Center, should begin next month on a 4.1-acre site south of Country Vista Drive, about a quarter-mile west of Liberty Lake Road. He says that interest in the building is strong and some medical-care providers have expressed an intent to lease space there.
Haights plans call for the eventual construction of two medical office buildings there, the first of which is expected to have about 21,600 square feet of floor space. The second building, which will be built depending on tenant demand, will be similarly sized and be located just to the south of the first building. The two will be connected by a covered canopy, he says.
I have a gut feeling that by the time the first building is under way, therell be enough demand to let us start on the other one, too, Haight says.
All three developers with projects in Liberty Lake say that an area typically will attract a foundation of primary-care physicians first. As the areas population grows, specialists will open offices, then hospitals or other groups will offer diagnostic services needed by the specialists.Brisk residential activityHaight says that the Liberty Lake areas growth has been fueled by increased business activity, which, in turn, has triggered residential construction.
Lee Mellish, manager of the Liberty Lake Sewer District, says the district has been adding about 150 hookups a year for the past several yearsheavy volume for the district. Currently about 14,000 residences are connected to the sewer districts system, he says.
Mellish expects the number of residential hookups to drop off some this year, but still expects relatively brisk activity both in the residential and the commercial markets, especially in the MeadowWood area and north of Interstate 90.
There are quite a few residential areas on the books, that already have water going to them and are waiting to be developed, he says.
Says Haight, The residential growth equates to an increase in the number of homes and people in that area and with that traffic comes a need for basic primary care. Doctors, dentists, and other people in the medical profession need to be readily available to those people.
Valley Hospital is considering either leasing space in one of the complexes and then subleasing that space to physicians, or leasing space there for its own hospital-related services.
St. Lukes Rehabilitation Institute is exploring offering physical therapy services in one of the planned Liberty Lake complexes, although it has no definite plans to do so yet.Encouraging servicesMike Liepman, chief operating officer at Valley Hospital, says the hospital has been encouraging physicians to offer services in growing, underserved areas, such as Liberty Lake. Providing medical services close to where people live is a convenience most people expect, he says.
Liepman suggests that primary-care physicians have been slow to relocate to the Liberty Lake area because their practices near Valley Hospital are thriving.
Their schedules are 100 percent full. Theyre feeling good, but what we try to tell them is thats probably the best time to be worried, Liepman says.
He explains that oftentimes doctors who have full patient schedules are serving patients who are traveling from areas that are underserved, such as Liberty Lake. As other physicians begin to move into those areas, patients usually will seek out those enterprising physicians rather than drive farther to get such services. Liepman says Valley Hospital has tried to tell physicians that in order to protect their patient base, they have to move into the growing areas.
Liepman says about 20,000 people live in the Liberty Lake area, which would mean that there are about 20,000 potential patients there. He adds that statistically, people prefer to visit medical professionals who work within 10 to 15 minutes of their homes. If a circle were drawn around all of the areas that are 10 to 15 minutes away from the center of Liberty Lake, it would increase the potential patient base to about 43,000 people, which is more than sufficient to be attractive to health-care providers, he contends.Post Falls serves as exampleJoe Morris, CEO of Kootenai Medical Center, says a medical industry buildup thats similar to the one in Liberty Lake already has begun to take place in the Post Falls area.
More than two years ago, Kootenai Medical Center recognized a need for medical services in the growing Post Falls area. In March 1997, it opened a clinic it had just built there called KMC Health Park.
One of Kootenai Medicals first goals was to develop a larger primary-care provider base in Post Falls, Morris says. He says that when KMC Health Park was in the planning stages, Post Falls had some primary-care physicians, but Kootenai Medical Center believed it could support more.
The medical centers second goal was to bring to Post Falls some of its specialized medical staff. Morris says that several specialists who work at Kootenai Medical Center now work half days at the health park to bring their services closer to their Post Falls patients.
For the most part, Kootenai Medical Center believes that it has met its goals. Morris says that the health park is about 70 percent leased out. The medical center owns another five acres of land adjacent to the park that could be used for expansion, should demand for space increase.
We still have some capacity to grow, but Im willing to be patient, he says.
Morris says the potential for health-care development in Liberty Lake is perhaps even greater than it is in Post Falls.
The area is more underserved than Post Falls, as far as medical services are concerned. I believe that developers will be relatively successful in Liberty Lake, he says.
Riggs, who also owns North Idaho Immediate Care Center, which operates clinics in Coeur dAlene, Post Falls, and Hayden Lake, recently completed construction of a medical building in Post Falls, which is similar to the structure his group plans in Liberty Lake.
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