ORLEANS — The financial challenges that prompted Cape Cod Healthcare to temporarily shelve its $180-million hospital expansion plan last year and lay off more than 100 employees in late summer haven’t stopped the organization from continuing its steady eastward expansion toward the Outer Cape.
Local permitting is well under way for a $5.6-million urgent and primary care center on the site of the former Lobster Claw Restaurant on Route 6A in Orleans, just half a mile south of the Eastham town line. The project remains on track to open by spring 2022.
Cape Cod Healthcare operates the Cape’s two hospitals, the Visiting Nurse Association, and dozens of primary, outpatient, rehabilitation, laboratory, specialty, and urgent care centers from Orleans to Bourne and beyond. Its existing facilities in Orleans include the Nauset Family Practice, the Orleans Medical Center, and the Orleans Rehabilitation Center.
Michael Lauf, president and CEO of Cape Cod Healthcare, said the public has expressed a need for the company’s medical services.
“The plan is to ensure we have services in the Orleans community and surrounding communities if they choose to use us,” Lauf said in a Monday phone interview. “This is an opportunity to meet the people where they live.”
The project has been touted as serving both the Lower and Outer Cape, all the way to Provincetown.
Lauf said the facility will also support the organization’s effort to recruit new primary care physicians to Cape Cod.
“I think physicians want to practice in an environment that’s nice and warm and clean, and has amenities,” he said. By amenities, he referred to cutting-edge facilities and services. “We want to provide those, so they come to an incredible community like Orleans.”
Orleans officials have embraced the proposal, which calls for the demolition of the old restaurant and construction of a 6,800-square-foot building that will house urgent, specialty, and primary care services, as well as an onsite lab and X-ray facilities.
Cape Cod Healthcare is the largest medical provider on the Upper and Mid Cape. In addition to medical offices, Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis, and Falmouth Hospital, the organization currently has urgent-care centers in Falmouth, Sandwich, Hyannis, and Harwich.
For the tax year ending September 2019, Cape Cod Healthcare reported total revenue of $987 million, and an operating surplus of $53 million. Lauf’s compensation for the year was more than $1.9 million, and at least five physicians working for the organization were paid over $1 million.
Outer Cape Health Services has historically been the main health care provider on the Outer Cape, with medical centers in Provincetown, Wellfleet, and Harwich Port.
Will Outer Cape Health Services feel the squeeze from Cape Cod Healthcare’s move onto their turf?
“The future impact of Cape Cod Healthcare in Orleans remains to be seen,” said Gerry Desautels, senior development and communications officer for Outer Cape Health Services.
Calling Outer Cape Health “the only medical provider from Eastham to Provincetown,” Desautels said the organization uses an integrated health care model, which he called “team-based wraparound care.” In addition to traditional health services, the Outer Cape Health centers provide behavioral health services, social services, and a food and nutrition program for women, infants, and children, all on site. Insurance enrollment counselors are there to help patients find plans and sign up for them.
“We have a lot under one roof,” Desautels said.
Andrew Jorgensen, chief medical officer for Outer Cape Health, said urgent care on the Outer Cape is nothing new — his organization provides urgent care at its Provincetown health center year-round.
“Certain clinicians are dedicated to that service,” he said. “We’ve had it for several years.”
The number of employees at the planned Orleans operation has not yet been determined, but Cape Cod Healthcare, in its permit filings, said that there will be four or five full-time physicians assigned there.
“We have a lot of respect for Outer Cape Health Services,” said Lauf, who characterized the two medical organizations as having a solid working relationship.
Asked whether a merger is in the works, Lauf said, “We’ve never had that discussion.”
Meanwhile, the project is navigating the town permitting process.
The plan secured approval before Christmas from the site plan review committee, which is made up of staff from various town departments. It will undergo architectural review this month and must secure a special permit from the zoning board of appeals for a change of use. The conservation commission will review wetlands issues, and the board of health, a Title 5 septic system.
“It sounds like a very good, positive project for Orleans and the area, and we are glad to have them present the proposal,” said Orleans Town Planner George Meservey.