New facility creating a “medical neighborhood” in Buffalo’s lower West Side

Sep 22, 2017

A new integrated medical facility is serving thousands of Buffalo-area residents by building a community based around health care.

Through the front doors of the Greater Buffalo United Accountable Healthcare Network’s new building on Niagara Street is a reception desk that could be found in any other medical practice in the city. But what surrounds it in the rest of the 40,000 square foot building is what sets the facility apart.

Primary care and specialty medicine, care coordinators, and executives fill the first through third floors of the facility. In the basement, community health workers and a wellness center round out the amenities. Within the next month, an already-built pharmacy and lab are expected to come online as well.

The $6-million facility at 564 Niagara Street is expected to infuse $11-million into Buffalo’s lower West Side economy. When asked how, GBAHN founder and CEO Dr. Raul Vazquez has a simple response: “jobs.”

Payroll is currently set at $4.8-million for the 170 employees of GBUAHN who come in and out of the facility each day. And the organization has a goal of expanding to 500 employees by the end of the year, though Vazquez isn’t certain that mark will be reached in such a short amount of time.

GBUAHN is the only value-based care model in Upstate New York – part of a pilot program with YourCare. It’s a system based on reward for quality of health care over quantity of health care. GBUAHN gets graded on 30 “quality measures” of health outcomes – 15 of which focus on what doctors do. If 12 of the measures are met, the organization gets a full “share savings” which helps cover costs. If they meet less than six, they get nothing at all.

Those measures are supported not only by traditional medicine, but by elements such as transportation and wellness that Vazquez said are often overlooked in health care because they aren’t paid for.

A weight loss class takes place in the gym of the new GBUAHN facility.
Credit Avery Schneider / WBFO News

GBUAHN has its own vans and made a recent partnership with ride-hailing service Lyft to help shuttle patients to and from health care appointments. The new facility’s wellness center houses both a full gym and kitchen where weight-loss and cooking classes are offered.

“We’re hiring a chef, a dietician, [and] a nutritionist,” said Vazquez. “And you don’t get paid for those services. But we find they’re so important in controlling health care, especially for the community that doesn’t have access to do that.”

The concept of “medical neighborhoods,” as Vazquez described it, is what GBUAHN is creating, and it’s where he thinks the rest health care industry needs to follow.

A self-described “Bronx kid,” Vazquez began his career in Buffalo as an outsider. And while he recalls not always being welcomed by the general medical community, Vazquez found an immediate home downtown and on the Lower West Side.

“The Puerto Rican community always accepted me. They took me in,” said Vazquez. “The black community always took me in. So I ended up working in those areas, and who I am today is because of those communities.”

Vazquez has been described as a man of vision, but said his vision is not yet fulfilled. He called the GBUAHN facility “chapter one” of a two-chapter plan. The next stage involves partnering with another insurance company to take the accountable care model found in GBUAHN’s sister organization GBUACO (Greater Buffalo United Accountable Care Organization) and GBUAHN’s “health homes” concept across New York State. According to Vazquez, talks are already underway to make it happen in less than a year. The first focus will be on Syracuse and Dunkirk because each have significant Hispanic and African American populations, as well as large provider groups.

Outside of the new GBUAHN facility, related sites include an upcoming OB-GYN and women’s health facility on Niagara Street next door, another building across the street, a facility on Swan Street, and a future practice on Jefferson Avenue on the city’s East Side. And outside of regular medicine, GBUAHN’s parent organization also runs charitable operations and a real estate arm.

With so much expansion, Vazquez sees far fewer patients than he used to as a private practice physician of 26 years. And though he misses the one-on-one interaction, he sees a greater benefit to what he’s doing now.

“If I did that for another 20 years, there’s only a limited number of people I can touch. But scaling the way we’re trying to do population management, I can manage a whole population and have more of an impact on my community,” said Vazquez. “The ones I’ve touched have been good, but I wish I would have done this a lot sooner, because I think I would have been able to touch a lot more people and really create changes in healthcare that should have taken place a long time ago.”

While Thursday evening marked the official opening of the GBUAHN facility, its doors have actually been open since August. Vazquez said he wanted to get staff and patients settled before making the full debut. Already, he said, patients are walking in amazed at the facility. He recalled one man cried as he thanked him for bringing the facility to the community when he could have gone elsewhere. It’s responses like that that Vazquez said “feed him.”

“I love what I do,” said Vazquez. “And just touching people’s lives – taking people from membership that were patients, and now giving them a job in the area – that, to me, is what we should be doing as companies, as people working in the community. So you’re not just coming into the community and not being part of that community. The community is you.”