Health care drives Suffolk economy

Published 2:00 pm Monday, March 1, 2010

Health care facilities springing up across the city, particularly in the downtown and Harbour View areas, are becoming a driving force in the city’s economy.

“This is an industry in itself,” Economic Development Director Kevin Hughes said. “The health care field is doing nothing but growing throughout the city.”

In addition to continued reinvestment in Sentara Obici Hospital on Godwin Boulevard, other downtown medical offices have sprung up in the past few years. In particular, The One Foot, Two Foot complex on North Main Street sports a podiatrist’s office, spa and shoe store for people to care for and pamper their feet.

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“That’s someone who is a real entrepreneur filling a niche,” said Hughes of Dr. Matthew Dairman, who conceived and brought to fruition the business.

It is in the North Suffolk area, however, where health care facilities have seemingly popped up all over the place.

“The Harbour View Route 17 corridor sees continued investment,” Hughes said. “The bookends of Bon Secours and Sentara are offering choices, and very high quality choices at that.”

The Bon Secours Health Center at Harbour View was among the first health care facilities to call the growing North Suffolk area home.

“We placed our flag out here,” said Lynne Zultanky, a public relations coordinator for Bon Secours. “We’re doing the right thing for that community.”

Since moving in, Bon Secours has been a good — and very effective — neighbor. The emergency room, which offers a 30-minute treatment guarantee, logs more than 28,000 visits per year. Also located in the building are a health center, physician offices, an ambulatory surgery center and more. The surgery center attracts nearly 7,000 patients annually.

With all those patients come employees — more than 300 at that facility alone, from physicians and nurses to office and clerical staff. Throughout the Bon Secours program, the payroll reaches nearly $13 million — dollars that get reinvested in the community, said Greg Simia, chief financial officer of Bon Secours Hampton Roads.

“It becomes a domino effect in a way,” Simia said. “There are impacts to the rest of the economy.”

The facilities also help feed other kinds of growth, Simia said. Related and support services grow when heath care grows, and quality health care adds fuel to the fire of companies hoping to move to Suffolk.

“It increases the value of the land and incentive to develop,” Simia said. “It does help stabilize and strengthen the local economy.”

In addition, the company’s charitable contributions to events such as the Race for Literacy continue to support the community, as well as the company’s executives serving on boards of local nonprofit organizations.

Also in the Harbour View area, the Sentara BelleHarbour facility is helping drive changes in the community. The hundreds of employees at that multi-faceted facility are supporting the economy in a big way, said Chet Hart, vice president for the Sentara CarePlex facility.

“They’re living in that community, and they’re spending their money on restaurants and gas and cultural events and recreational opportunities,” Hart said.

Many Sentara employees live in the community where they work, Hart said, adding a community connection to health care.

“They’re caring for their neighbors,” Hart said. They have the best interest of their neighbors in hand as they’re delivering that care on a day-to-day basis.”

When Sentara moved onto Route 10 in the form of Obici Hospital, the corridor was not nearly as developed as it is today, Hart said.

“There were very few businesses there,” Hart said. “When we built the facility, you can see all the new housing and businesses that popped up around this campus. It really does spur additional growth and economic development.”

Continued construction also helps the economy, Hart noted.

“The amount of capital we’re spending in bricks and mortar, that money goes to local contractors and local subcontractors,” Hart said.

Finally, health care facilities help attract other companies in all types of industries and services, Hart said.

“When the city of Suffolk is looking to court and entertain new businesses to bring them into the community, they want to know what’s the housing like, what’s the infrastructure like, what’s the schools like and what kind of health care facilities do you have,” Hart said. “When employers are looking for a facility, people want to have the most modern and up-to-date health care they can have.”

For Hughes’ part, he believes the health care investment will continue to affect Suffolk’s economy for a long time.

“They see the future out here and the need that’s going to come with it,” Hughes said.