BRISTOL — The ongoing revitalization of Bristol’s industrial park took a big leap forward this week with confirmation that the campus will soon welcome a substantial local physicians’ practice and a new pharmacy.
Porter Medical Center officials on Monday reported that Bristol Internal Medicine (BIM), now located at 6 Park Place, will relocate this summer to a soon-to-be-renovated, 7,680-square-foot vacancy in the Bristol Works complex at the corner of Munsill Avenue and Pine Street.
The impending move gives the doctors’ office much-needed expansion area as it seeks to better serve a growing client base in the five-town area. Moreover, BIM’s relocation will give Bristol Works a major health-care tenant and added momentum in filling a total of 47,500 square feet of space for medical, green energy, value-added agriculture and housing uses.
Meanwhile, Bristol-based Mountain Health Center is in serious negotiations to relocate from its small Mountain Street headquarters into Bristol Works, a move that would further establish the 5.5-acre development as a local health care hub.
“I think it is a great partnership,” Bristol Works partner Kevin Harper said of the business park’s imminent association with BIM, one of eight primary care practices owned by Porter Medical Center in Addison County.
Plans call for Porter Medical Center to commit to a 10-year lease with Bristol Works for the BIM office space. Porter will in turn sublease a small portion of the spot to Marble Works Pharmacy to open a new drug store with a drive-up window, according to Porter President James Daily. The new drug store is expected to provide convenient, one-stop shopping to BIM patients as well as being open to the general community, Daily said.
“I am confident… we will have a great space there,” Daily said of the Bristol Works location.
Daily and his colleagues have been working with Harper and his associates since last summer in considering a new home for BIM. The practice is cramped in 1,528 square feet of rented space. BIM’s medical staff includes Drs. Gretchen Gaida Michaels, Will Porter and Patricia Lewis. The practice also includes two nurses, three administrative assistants and an office manager, according to Porter Practice Management Vice President Jean Cotner.
“There are only four examination rooms and there is no way to take advantage of the upstairs,” Cotner said.
The building also features some uneven floors, precarious basement steps and some roof leaks, according to Porter Medical Center officials. So BIM was at a crossroads — either lobby for repair and expansion of 6 Park Place, or look for a larger, more modern spot in which the practice could grow.
Porter officials chose the latter scenario, as the Bristol Works spot will allow for eight exam rooms, four provider offices, room for shared visits and expansion, and will be fully accessible to people with disabilities.
Porter spokesman Ron Hallman noted the five-town area has a shortage of primary care physicians. BIM is currently unable to take new patients, he said. In fact, the only Porter primary care practice currently signing up new clients is in Brandon, officials said.
Cotner said local physician Dave Henderson’s recent retirement was a big factor in generating new demand for physician services in the Bristol area. Porter officials hope to add another physician to BIM’s roster by the time the practice moves into Bristol Works by late this summer. Cotner envisions BIM gradually ramping up its staff as dictated by demand for services.
“It is fair to say we are interviewing,” Daily said of new personnel for the larger Bristol office.
Bristol Works would also afford some much-needed growth area for Mountain Health Center, a 25-year-old private practice operated by Drs. Marian Bouchard, Laura Weylman and Wendie Puls. Bouchard believes Mountain Health and Bristol Internal Medicine would coexist well together in delivering services to patients. She said the practice is currently “squished” in its Mountain Street home and is receiving an increasing number of requests for service.
“I believe it will make Bristol Works more of a health care destination,” Bouchard said of the potential move.
HEALTH CENTER EFFORT
Indeed, the continuing success and growth of BIM and Mountain Health takes on greater importance given a failed effort (at least for now) to establish a Federally Qualified Health Center, or FQHC, in Bristol. A group known as the Five-Town Health Alliance for several years has spearheaded an effort establish an FQHC at Bristol Works. Funded with federal money, the FQHC model offers primary care, dental, behavioral health and preventative healthcare services to people — regardless of insurance status or ability to pay — in medically underserved areas.
Federal authorities have thus far not approved the Bristol FQHC proposal.
Daily said Porter Medical Center continues to support Bristol’s quest for an FQHC, as does Harper.
Harper is pleased with how Bristol Works is taking shape, and noted progress in extending beyond the health care industry. Bristol Bakery has opened a wholesale manufacturing facility on the campus.
Jeff Weaber of Aqua Vitea this week confirmed he is seriously exploring the possibility of moving his small company from Salisbury to Bristol Works. Aqua Vitea makes Kombucha, a fermented beverage made from tea, sugar, water, and a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast.
“Kevin’s space is perfect for what we want to do,” Weaber said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]