Hartford Healthcare plans to add a dozen new medical facilities in Fairfield County

Hartford Healthcare is making a major breakthrough in southwestern Connecticut, adding a dozen new medical facilities in Fairfield County over the next 18 months, according to a company executive who will handle the construction work.

Rich Lee, general manager of Branford-based O, R & L Commercial, said most of the new medical facilities will be developed in former Fairfield County retail space. Lee made the remarks during a recent panel discussion on business development trends at a meeting of the Connecticut and Western Massachusetts chapter of the Society of Industrial and Office Realtors.

“You’re going to be seeing Hartford Healthcare all over Fairfield County in the coming months,” Lee said. He said converting retail space into medical facilities made the most sense “because of ease of access and availability of parking.”

Karen Goyette, vice president of strategic planning and business development for Hartford Healthcare, said a pair of factors will determine where expansion takes place.

“We’re trying to respond to the availability of lower-cost (healthcare) options,” Goyette said. “At the same time, as we build assets in the community, we try to assess where there are gaps in coverage and what the needs are.”

Hartford Healthcare officials have yet to identify specific locations.

Hartford Healthcare is no stranger to retail to medical conversions. In the summer of 2020, Hartford Healthcare opened a medical center in a 40,700 square foot space in the North Haven Pavilion shopping center on Universal Drive, which was a Sports Authority site which closed in 2016.

The decline in retail activity in physical stores over the past decade has made vacant store space more widely available. The arrival of the pandemic has only accelerated the number of vacancies.

Lee, who said healthcare projects make up 75% of O,R&L’s overall business, added that the size of spaces the company normally handles in terms of retail-to-medical conversions varies. from 2,500 square feet to 75,000 square feet.

Hartford Healthcare’s rival in the Connecticut hospital market, Yale New Haven Health System, is undertaking a much larger conversion from retail to medical at Meriden Mall.

Last October, Yale New Haven Health purchased the two-story, 179,285-square-foot former Macy’s location in the mall for what it calls a “comprehensive ambulatory center.”

The redevelopment of the former mall anchor space in Meriden will take 18 to 24 months. Services planned for the facility will begin to open over a phased period of time, with completion of construction expected by late 2023 or early 2024.

Angela Mattie, professor of management and medical sciences at Quinnipiac University, said bringing medical care closer to where people live “is a way to increase the value of our healthcare system.”

“That’s where we should always focus our discussions,” Mattie said. “And adding accessibility to that equation is important. If you have a 90 year old mother, it is easier to park next to where you are taking her and drop her off than to take her to Hartford or New Haven and use a parking lot.

Converting old retail space into medical facilities makes sense, she said, because malls typically have easy access to freeways.

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Richard F. Gandhi