UPPER EAST SIDE — A 16-story medical facility could soon soar over York Avenue, adding 179,000-square-feet of outpatient services to Memorial Sloan-Kettering's fight against cancer.
Nearby, though, residents are already complaining about the size of the proposed facility that will tower between East 61st and 62nd streets. They say it's too big, and adds to a neighborhood already jammed with new or proposed medical facility expansions.
At a time when the city’s public hospitals are struggling and Brooklyn hospitals are facing possible closures, top-tier East Side institutions — including the Hospital for Special Surgery, NYU Langone Medical Center, Lenox Hill Hospital, Weill Cornell Medical College and Mount Sinai Medical Center — could dramatically reshape the city's landscape over the next five years as they expand their footprints, modernize and adapt to upcoming health care reforms.
"There is definitely a medical arms race in New York City," said Tony Kovner, a professor of health policy and management at NYU’s Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. "A lot of the facilities are outdated. It's the biggest thing not only for New York’s economy but also in real estate."
Some projects are changing the faces of existing hospitals.
NYU Langone is building an 800,000-square-foot pavilion on East 34th Street next to its Tisch hospital. The project won't add any beds, but will allow for all patients to have their own rooms.
At the same time, the Hospital for Special Surgery has added five new floors on top of its eight story building on East 70th Street, and Lenox Hill is gearing up for a four-year renovation of its subsidiary, the Manhattan Eye Ear Throat Hospital on East 64th Street.
Other projects are in the works, with East Side hospitals gobbling up land.
Sloan-Kettering recently bought a former Hertz rental car facility at 327 East 64th St. for $19 million and paid more than $83 million for the former Cabrini Medical Center buildings on East 19th Street, according to reports. They don't yet have plans to develop these sites, unlike the York Avenue site.
Mount Sinai recently paid a reported $25 million for a 15,000-square-foot parking lot on East 103 Street next to its main campus, but hasn’t announced development plans.
A $240 million cancer treatment center, to be run by a consortium including NYU and Sloan-Kettering, is the potential anchor tenant for a controversial residential tower slated to rise at Ruppert Playground, a popular spot on East 93rd Street owned by the Related Companies.
"[Hospital construction] around the country is dead," said Charles Maggio, the national director for the healthcare practice of Jones Lang Lasalle real estate firm. "That fact that we are flourishing in this region is amazing."
For many local hospitals, the push to build facilities for outpatient, or ambulatory, services — medical procedures that can be done without an overnight stay — is an attempt to cut the costs of overnight stays as new health care laws will require.
"Things are continuing to move to ambulatory care," said Dr. Andrew Brotman, NYU Langone’s senior vice president and vice dean for clinical affairs and strategy. "Things that used to be in the hospitals are no longer — the vast majority of cancer care, cardiology and gastroenterology."
NYU is creating a new ambulatory care facility on 13 floors of a former Verizon building at 240 E. 38th St., and has built other health care facilities across the region. The Hospital for Special Surgery is gearing up to open its own outpatient center for pain management on East 75th Street.
The goal of these facilities, Brotman said, is to "see a lot more patients."
Other East Side construction has been spurred by competition for federal research grants. Sloan-Kettering, Mount Sinai, Rockefeller University, NYU and Weill Cornell Medical College have all got projects in various stages.
"The Belfer Research Building will more than double Weill Cornell’s research space, enabling us to remain competitive in our recruitment of top-tier physician-scientists," said Dr. Laurie Glimcher, Dean of Weill Cornell Medical College that's adding 400,00 square feet. The open floor plans will help scientists collaborate on "important health concerns of our time, such as cancer and neuro-degenerative disorders," she added.
Experts, however, still say there are too many hospitals in Manhattan.
"Many people have observed that 30 to 40 percent of what takes place in hospitals is waste," Kovner said.
"Just like people eat when they're not hungry, people get medical care when they shouldn't have it."