PEMBERTON TOWNSHIP — Residents of this spacious 63-square-mile town frequently rave about its beautiful scenery and folksy charms in the middle of the protected Pinelands.
But if they catch a cold or need basic medical services like a check up, X-rays, lab tests or physical therapy, they'd be stuck traveling miles out of town to receive the necessary care.
A new three-story, 60,000-square-foot medical office building was dedicated Wednesday on the Trenton Road campus of the Deborah Heart and Lung Center and will become the home of a host of new health care services previously unavailable in town, such as an urgent care clinic, X-rays, a family medicine office, an outpatient pharmacy and physical therapy. An ambulatory surgical center also is expected to open on the building's third floor soon.
The "medical mall" of sorts is the product of a partnership between Deborah and Landmark Health Care Facilities, a Milwaukee-based company that specializes in developing medical offices, labs and surgery centers.
Landmark built the state-of-the-art medical building on land it's leasing from Deborah, one of the oldest and most respected specialty hospitals in the nation. The property previously housed the Elichman Pavilion, the site of most of the hospital's administrative offices, which was demolished.
During an opening dedication ceremony Wednesday, Joseph Chirichella, Deborah's president and CEO, said the new building marked the continuation of the hospital's mission to both provide world-renowned specialty care, but also improve access to health care for the hospital's longtime neighbors.
"We decided we could remain focused on our core mission and simultaneously partner with organizations with the expertise to bring other services to the community," Chirichella said, citing the hospital's partnership with Lourdes Health System to open an emergency room at the hospital that has now treated over 160,000 patients, and its more recent partnership with DaVita Dialysis Center to provide that much needed service in the township.
Rather than build a new office building just for Deborah, he said the hospital's leadership decided to partner with Landmark to develop the $21.5 million center in order to address community needs.
Landmark Executive Vice President of Development Michael Cleary said the opening represented years of collaboration to bring what was originally just a concept to reality.
"It will be a great asset to the (Deborah) campus, for patients and the community," he said during his opening remarks.
Pemberton Township Mayor David Patriarca said the building was the largest commercial development in the town in recent history and would fulfill a huge need.
"This is big. I don't mean just 60,000-square-foot big, but this is big for our community. As a community leader I can tell you it meets many of the deficiencies we have had here in our community for our residents who need care and have to travel so far for it. This brings it right home," he said.
The mayor said the large project also sends a message to other developers who may be looking for new opportunities and untapped markets.
The township has already acquired and demolished several vacant commercial properties nearby that it hopes to be able to flip to an interested developer, and the town also is moving forward with acquisition of the Browns Mills Shopping Center on Pemberton-Browns Mills Road, which the municipal government also hopes to see redeveloped.
"Other developers will take a second look at Pemberton and Browns Mills as a business opportunity," Patriarca said. "I think they'll look at properties we've acquired and are in the process of acquiring to invest in because they see the opportunity because of the expansion of a facility such as this."
A collection of other state and local officials also attended the event and applauded the new development, including Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd of West Deptford; state Sen. Troy Singleton, D-7th of Palmyra; Assemblywoman Carol Murphy, D-7th of Mount Laurel; and Burlington County Freeholder Linda Hughes.
"Deborah is a very, very special place that serves so many families. It's internally known, but it's right here in Burlington County," Sweeney said. "Having health care in your community makes a tremendous difference."
Singleton and Murphy also spoke about the hospital's importance and its mission of expanding health care access. The hospital was founded in 1922 and does not bill any patients for its treatment aside from what Medicare and Medicaid or private insurance covers.
"This building is more than just brick and mortar it's really an embodiment of the Deborah mission, which is world renown," Singleton said at the opening. "I understand how important it is to have health care. Some can debate whether or not that's a right or a privilege, but I can tell you it becomes something that's necessary when it's not there when you need it. But Deborah throughout its longstanding history has always been there."
"Deborah has done a fantastic job making health care accessible to all Burlington County residents," Murphy added.