By Ruth Liao
October 6, 2010
A former big-box retailer in northeast Salem that’s shuttered soon will be the home of a nonprofit Salem family medical practice.
The Willamette Family Medical Center, a practice of about a dozen medical providers, is preparing to move from its current location, the original Salem Hospital building on Medical Center Drive NE, where it has been for 15 years.
The clinic is scheduled to move in March to the former Circuit City store at 435 Lancaster Drive NE.
Dr. Robert Steele, one of the center’s founders and acting chief executive director, said renovating a former big-box retailer was an opportunity to design the building to suit the clinic’s needs.
“This has the potential to be so much better,” he said.
Within the next six months, the clinic is preparing to embark on a $2.5 million fundraising campaign in order to cover the costs of retrofitting. It already has raised $2 million, Steele said.
In May, the Willamette Family Medical Center purchased the former Circuit City property, which was going through foreclosure, for $1.8 million. The two-and-a-half acre property is between Center and State streets.
“It’s perfect for our patients,” Steele said. “It sits on the public transit line, it’s in the northern end of town.”
Dr. Chris Kirk, the medical director of the Mid-Valley Independent Physicians Association, which is made up more than 500 medical providers, said the move by Willamette Family Medical Center makes sense, given the amount of affordable retail space that is available that independent providers potentially could use.
“Nationwide, what we’re seeing is primary care practices are being bought up by hospital systems, and they tend to put their practices into more traditional medical buildings.”
The move was prompted after Salem Hospital notified Willamette Family Medical Center in December 2009 that the building was “at the end of its useful life,” said Salem Hospital spokeswoman Julie Howard said.
After the medical center moves out of the building, the hospital intends to demolish the building and maintain the property, but no plans have been made for the property, she said.
The new space is smaller than its current location, but Steele said the practice will make better use of the newly designed space. In the former Circuit City building, the Willamette Family Medical Center will use about 20,000 square feet of the 30,000-square-foot building and lease the remaining space. Steele said he’s already received interest from potential tenants.
The Portland architect firm Clark Kjos, which specializes in hospitals, clinics and health care offices, is designing the new Willamette Family Medical Center.
Clark Kjos has rehabilitated other retail spaces for clinics in the Northwest. The Salem medical clinic is the firm’s second big-box rehabilitation project in Oregon, said project manager Matt Ottinger.
Among its big-box “makeover” projects: a group health clinic inside an old movie theater in Seattle and Wellspring, the wellness and medical center in Woodburn, which was a former Kmart.
“The shell is already made. It’s a big, open expanse, and we can fill it for whatever space or uses the client needs,” he said.
Ottinger said the former Circuit City building posed a design challenge because of its high ceilings and depth of windowless space. But skylights are an answer: the new clinic will be designed with a large, open-air courtyard enclosed with glass in order to allow natural light throughout the building.
The new clinic will accommodate 25 exam rooms, a reception area, a counseling center for the clinic’s mental health services, a lab area and medical offices.
The Willamette Family Medical Center, which was established in 1995, has an annual budget of about $3.5 million.
The clinic serves about 39,000 patients. A majority of the clinic’s patients are on Medicare or Medicaid, or uninsured and about 20 percent of the clinic’s patients have private insurance. About 71 percent of their patients are children.
The clinic offers group prenatal care through its Centering Pregnancy program. The Willamette Family Medical Center also provides mental health through a partnership with the Marion County Health Department and two George Fox University graduate students.
“Patients come here for medical problems, but so often, they’re complicated by resource and mental health issues,” Steele said. “That’s where the medical ‘home’ comes in.”