By the end of July, Vancouver Radiologists will leave its longtime 87th Avenue clinic and move to a space near Westfield Vancouver mall, a relocation that seems perfectly ordinary.
But as it turns out, the impending move is tied to intense competition between Portland-based Legacy Health System and PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center, formerly called Southwest Washington Medical Center. As the owner of the 87th Avenue building that is currently home to the radiology group, PeaceHealth refused to renew Vancouver Radiologists' lease for its 10,000-square-foot space in the Medical Center Physicians building next door to its East Mill Plain Boulevard hospital campus.
"The lease had expired and we already had an alternative use for the space," said Ken Cole, a spokesman for PeaceHealth.
"Their (Vancouver Radiologists) services compete with our hospital-based imaging," he added.
The hospital at one time contracted exclusively with Vancouver Radiologists, which is owned by 10 physicians, to provide x-ray and imaging services. But that contract ended seven years ago, when the radiology group signed a contract to serve Legacy Health System at its then newly-opened Salmon Creek hospital.
Southwest had bitterly opposed the hospital project since 2001, the year Legacy announced plans to end Southwest's position as the county's only hospital.
Leaders of Southwest quickly responded with plans for an 82-bed expansion. They also fought, sometimes bitterly, to keep the state Department of Health from approving the competing hospital. Clark County's rapid growth
caused the health department to approve both Legacy's 220-bed hospital at Salmon Creek and Southwest's expansion in 2002.
When the radiology group signed on with Legacy, it was immediately dropped by Southwest, which ramped up its own imaging services.
The change also left Vancouver Radiologists, which now has 75 employees, in a position to receive fewer referrals from physicians affiliated with PeaceHealth, said Jennifer Kammer, a spokeswoman for Vancouver Radiologists.
Nevertheless, the company provides x-ray, imaging, CT scan and other services to numerous clients that include Legacy, Rebound Orthopedics and Compass Oncology. A host of other primary care offices refer patients to Vancouver Radiologists as well, Kammer said.
"It's very competitive. Not only do you compete with the hospitals, but also with the clinics in town that have their own imaging equipment," she said.
A construction project is under way now to reconfigure Vancouver Radiologists' new $1.5 million clinic in the Vancouver Village retail strip mall at 4816 N.E. Thurston Way, just west of the mall.
Plans for the 10,000-square-foot clinic include a new spa-like breast-health center, meant to be attractive to female clients, Kammer said.
"There will be calm décor and music," she said. "We're trying to make it a very comfortable, calming environment."
Kammer said site selection was mostly driven by proximity to patients.
"It was driven by where they are located and where our physicians are located," she said. "And easy access to the freeway."
Tough economic times for retail tenants have caused landlords of shopping space to be more open to health care tenants, said Pam Lindloff, an associate vice president with NAI Norris Beggs & Simpson in Vancouver.
"It brings a strong tenant into the property and benefits the other tenants by bringing in good traffic flow," she said.
"Location, convenience and demographics" are among the benefits of the retail location to Vancouver Radiologists, said Tamara Fuller, also a vice president with NAI Norris Beggs & Simpson. "It's just like when you go to the dentist or chiropractor, you don't have to be near a hospital if it's not an emergency situation."