Volume 81, Number 14 | September 1 - 7, 2011
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Gouverneur is getting bigger

By Aline Reynolds

New York’s largest municipal free-standing health clinic, located on the Lower East Side, is about to get even larger.

Gouverneur Healthcare Services is gutting its ambulatory care center and nursing home in its current location at 227 Madison St. and expanding its services in a new, adjacent building with the goal of enhancing treatment and better accommodating Lower Manhattan’s growing senior population.

Since the center was originally designed as a hospital back in the late 1960s, it wasn’t structurally prepared to meet the demands of such a large outpatient facility, according to Sanford Operowsky, Gouverneur’s associate executive ­director. As a result, he said, its services have been cramped to the point Gouveneur’s staff has had to convert office space into additional exam rooms for patients.

“Being able to do these renovations and expansions enables us to implement the latest healthcare models and realign our services to what the community needs,” Operowsky said.

Under the plan, Gouverneur’s nursing department will grow from 210 to 295 beds, with 40 beds per floor, rather than 60 as before, to give patients more space and privacy. The broadened ambulatory department will be able to perform surgeries, colonoscopies, CAT scans and otherwise provide acute care to patients not requiring hospitalization.

“We’ll be able to treat people who are much sicker than we do now and admit clientele that’s much more likely to return home,” said William Bateman, Gouverneur’s director of medical and professional affairs.

In other words, the nursing home will cater more to seniors who are rehabilitating or recovering from illnesses or injuries rather than those who are permanently disabled or would be expected to stay there, Bateman explained.

“We’re focusing more on taking people who we can get home, as opposed to people whose conditions are such that they’ll never able to return to independent living,” he said.

Eventually, the facility plans to rent out part of the new space to an outside provider to open a dialysis center.

In designing the new and existing space, staff strove to create a cozy environment by adding fireplaces, fish tanks and other resident- and patient-friendly amenities, in addition to having natural light flow into wider, more navigable hallways and common rooms. All nursing home residents will have suites with private bedrooms, and they’ll either share bathrooms with one other resident or have one all to themselves.

“It’s going to provide a brighter, more cheerful space to come to get care in,” Bateman assured. “We do expect we’ll be able to utilize space effectively, in a matter that decreases the amount of time people have to wait to receive care.”

The space modifications represent a “culture change” in municipal healthcare, in that the new and improved facility will simulate a private care center, said Eugene Leung, senior project manager of the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York, one of the agencies overseeing the renovations.

“This project represents a feeling by the Mayor and the Health and Hospitals Corporation that there should be no difference between the public and private system, and that everyone deserves terrific care regardless,” said Leung.

“They really wanted to divorce the image of the institutional setting that has beset the city’s municipal health system for many, many years, and wanted these people to feel like they’re in a dignified home — maybe better than what their own homes were providing,” echoed James Palace, project executive for Hunter Roberts Construction Group, Gouverneur’s construction manager.

Gouverneur has assigned Palace and his team to create a grand entrance along Madison St., with granite steps and a spacious lobby comprised of maple wood walls and terrazzo floors. The new center will also have an auditorium used for fundraising and community events, as well as two rooftops for nursing home patients to enjoy the outdoors.

Palace’s team broke ground at the next-door property in early 2009 and plan to have the new 13th floor (the first completed space) ready for patients in October. The project is difficult, he said, since the facility’s nursing and ambulatory services must go uninterrupted during the construction.

As a result, the construction crew adjusted their usual procedures and schedule to minimize disruption the residents would experience.

“We’ve done hundreds of water and electrical shutdowns, and we try to do it at times that are least impactful to residents and the people that work there,” Palace explained.

The project also entails a complete infrastructure upgrade of the existing building’s electrical, mechanical and plumbing systems, and a merging of the old and new building so they feel like one.

Palace said, despite the project’s myriad challenges, the shared goal is to get the enlargened facility up and running as quickly as possible.

“Everyone was able to check their egos at the door, cooperate and communicate,” he said.

Gouverneur will host an opening ceremony on Mon., Sept. 19. The new facility will be completed in late 2013. Funding for the roughly $200 million project largely came from the H.H.C. capital budget. The center has also received grants through the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, Congressmember Nydia Velazquez and Borough President Scott Stringer.

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