GAINESVILLE, Fla. — University of Florida Health is riding the crest of a national trend of bringing leading-edge health care services closer to the community by opening three specialty practices at The Oaks Mall, Gainesville’s most-popular shopping destination.
UF Health The Oaks will feature ophthalmology, otolaryngology (ear, nose and throat) and audiology services provided by UF faculty in the 139,000-square-foot former Sears space at 6201 W. Newberry Road. The facility will also have an outpatient surgical center to support ophthalmology and otolaryngology procedures.
The mall is particularly attractive and exciting for several reasons, said Ed Jimenez, CEO of UF Health Shands: UF Health has many patients throughout the region, so finding an accessible location close to Interstate 75 was a priority. The otolaryngology and ophthalmology programs needed clinical space befitting of their national prominence. Also, the site can be renovated and opened in a relatively short time.
“Everything we have done lately has been focused on bringing services closer to our patients,” Jimenez said. “Now, we are moving two practices with a strong national reputation into a location that is ideal for patients and their families.”
UF Health ophthalmology and otolaryngology services are relocating from the nearby UF Health Hampton Oaks and another site. Remodeling is expected to take about a year after Sears leaves the site later this year. The long-term lease agreement also includes 500 parking spaces adjacent to the facility.
Placing medical facilities in the mall will provide an exceptional experience that is unique in the Gainesville area, UF Health officials said. It has ample parking and easy accessibility for both local and out-of-town residents. Dining and shopping opportunities abound, giving relatives and caregivers many things to do while they wait for patients undergoing treatment.
“This endeavor is consistent with our strategic vision for UF Health,” said David S. Guzick, M.D., Ph.D., senior vice president for health affairs at UF and president of UF Health. “This makes our faculty expertise and other vital health resources more accessible to residents and creates an environment that combines the latest in technology with warm, attentive service. This new, expanded facility also reflects the markedly increasing demand for faculty services in ophthalmology and otolaryngology shown by residents of our community and region.’’
For patients, the new location keeps accomplished, dedicated physicians and innovative medicine close to home.
Physicians in UF Health’s otolaryngology practice have been recognized for expertise in all areas of their specialty, including hearing, balance, nasal, sinus, allergy and facial disorders in both adults and children. The new practice will bring under one roof all practitioners for the cochlear implant program, which uses a “bionic ear” to restore hearing. Its radiology and lab services will provide a “one-stop” destination for ear, nose and throat care delivery. Also, UF Health otolaryngologists are working with the university’s research-focused Center for Smell and Taste on the UF Health Smell Disorders Program. This rare, new model pairs clinical care for smell disorders with the benefits of extensive research to better understand and develop treatments for these often vexing conditions.
UF Health has the only ophthalmology practice in the region that covers every subspecialty, including corneal transplants, pediatric ophthalmology, specialty contact lenses, refractive surgery and low-vision services. It also has state-of-the-art surgical and diagnostic equipment. Additionally, it is the only practice in the region to perform novel procedures such as “bionic eye” retinal implants, artificial corneas and miniature telescopes to improve vision loss caused by macular degeneration. UF ophthalmology has a world-renowned Vision Research Center, where the recently approved Luxturna gene therapy for childhood blindness was developed.
The debut of UF Health The Oaks will also bring changes to other UF Health facilities. The eye practices at the UF Health Medical Plaza on Southwest Archer Road and at Hampton Oaks on Southwest 62nd Boulevard will be consolidated at the new Oaks Mall location, freeing up Medical Plaza space for other services.
Bringing health care to a longtime community gathering spot is a special opportunity, said Marvin A. Dewar, M.D., CEO and chief medical officer of UF Health Physicians and a senior associate dean of the UF College of Medicine.
“The Oaks Mall property will be a great location for these practices. The location also nicely complements our other two main campuses in Gainesville — the UF Health campus on Archer Road and the multispecialty practice sites at Springhill. And the ultimate winner is our patients, who will have even greater access to exceptional medical care in newly designed clinical space in a convenient location,” he said.
The move also allows the practices to expand and grow, raising the prospects for future job growth, UF Health officials said. Nearly 70 employees in the UF Health ophthalmology and ear, nose and throat practices will move to the new location.
UF Health joins a growing list of health care systems nationwide that are bringing medicine to malls. In 2017, the Boston-based Dana-Farber Cancer Institute reached a long-term deal to redevelop a former mall in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. Vanderbilt Health has transformed part of a once-struggling mall into a thriving multiclinic health and wellness destination not far from its Nashville, Tennessee campus.
Medical facilities have been one of the more successful approaches for regenerating mall spaces, said Ellen Dunham-Jones, an architecture professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology and a leading expert on suburban mall redevelopment. That’s because established malls typically have residents nearby whose needs go beyond just shopping to include medical and other services, she said. Malls and medical facilities also have structural features that can be compatible, including large areas with smaller spaces in between as well as vast swaths of parking, she said.