Hartford HealthCare pushes ahead in pandemic to bring workers to office building on prominent corner in downtown Hartford

Kenneth R. Gosselin

Published On August 24, 2020

HARTFORD, CT — Hartford HealthCare is moving ahead with plans to bring the first of 700 workers to an office complex on the prominent corner of Trumbull and Pearl streets in downtown Hartford, as the health system Monday opens its patient care “access center.”

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Hartford HealthCare's chief executive Jeff Flaks talks with patient service liaisons Thursday at the new access center at 100 Pearl St. in downtown Hartford. (Mark Mirko / Hartford Courant)

But the health system says it is dropping plans — at least for now — for creating a “venture studio” on the ground floor of the 100 Pearl St. complex, deciding to keep that initiative as part of its Center for Education, Simulation and Innovation on the main campus of Hartford Hospital off Seymour Street.

Jeff Flaks, Hartford HealthCare’s chief executive, said the health system remains committed to its lease in the complex and its $14 million investment, part of a $24 million renovation in partnership with the building’s owner, Shelbourne Global Solutions LLC of Brooklyn, N.Y. Shelbourne is downtown’s largest landlord.

The plans for 100 Pearl were announced just as the pandemic struck Connecticut, and as it deepened, Hartford HealthCare, the parent of seven hospitals in the state, found its costs soaring, with losses, Flaks has said, that could run into several hundred million dollars.

“There was some pressure during the pandemic around our commitment to this building, and I’ve chosen to take a longer-term perspective,” Flaks said during a visit to the access center last week. “We have to balance the short-term pressure, which is significant, and ultimately, we are fully committed.”

The pandemic has forced Hartford HealthCare to stretch its timetable for renovations and moving workers into 100 Pearl. The health system will eventually occupy 80,000 square feet with an option for another 30,000 square feet under its lease.

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Hartford HealthCare Chief Executive Jeff Flaks in the health system's new access center at 100 Pearl St. in downtown Hartford. (Mark Mirko/Hartford Courant)

Michael Seidenfeld, Shelbourne’s chief operating officer, praised Hartford HealthCare for pushing ahead in the midst of a public health crisis, bringing urgent care, the access center and other services into downtown.

“Shelbourne is thrilled to be partnering with [Harford HealthCare] to bring these much needed services to our tenants and the residents of downtown,” Seidenfeld said.

The project at 100 Pearl is representative of Hartford HealthCare’s goal to invest in cities it serves to strengthen urban corridors, with health care becoming an economic driver, Flaks said.

Adding workers downtown is a welcome bit of news as big companies ask employers to work from home in the pandemic, taking a financial toll on merchants and restaurants.

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A rendering shows the exterior renovations planned by Hartford HealthCare at the 100 Pearl Street office complex in downtown Hartford. (Courtesy of Hartford HealthCare)

The access center will open with 70 workers — appropriately spaced and following the state’s public health guidelines — and is expected to increase to 250 by early next year. In the next month or so, it will transfer its logistics center to 100 Pearl from Newington, which coordinates patient transport by ambulance and helicopter.

Within the next six months, the health system’s chief investment office; its legal team; the office that manages partnerships and vendor agreements; and its public relations, advertising and marketing teams will move into the complex.

Of the 700, about half are new hires — mostly for the access center — and the rest are consolidated from other locations.

It is likely that a “green” rooftop terrace will be delayed, but plans for an urgent care center outfitted with telehealth technology, streetscape improvements and even a glass “cube” modeled after Apple’s on Fifth Avenue in New York are still in the plans.

In the venture studio, the health system’s engineers, scientists and development teams were to be seen collaborating by those passing by on the street. The studio also was to be an outward sign of the city’s aspirations to raise its profile as a center of innovation.

But Flaks said the health system’s space will still be a hub of innovation. The patient care access center opening Monday will eventually coordinate patient care and schedule appointments across Hartford HealthCare’s 400 locations in Connecticut.

Flaks offered the example of a patient who has a suspicion of breast cancer. The person often has to see a primary care physician, their OBGYN, perhaps a general surgeon, an oncologist and a radiologist.

“That could take, under normal circumstances, four to five weeks, and the person is left to navigate it themselves, try to figure it out, try to move the information,” Flaks said. “This center is going to take that person and be their medical concierge, their medical liaison,” Flaks said.

The access center follows on Hartford HealthCare’s $250 million investment over the last decade putting all its health records into one electronic systems across its hospitals, primary care offices, home care, rehabilitation, behavioral health and urgent care.

Flaks said the access center will see the big picture and more easily find openings for patients, reduce wait times and juggle schedules — reducing costs and ultimately, making health care more affordable. In primary care offices, it will remove the scheduling and calls for prescription refills, for example, so patient care becomes the focus, Flaks said.

“I do believe it’s a game changer,” Flaks said.