New medical center coming to Liberty Street

Dr. Leslie Miller (left) and Dr. Alicia Salzer are the founders of Medhattan, soon to open at 106 Liberty St. Downtown Express photo by Aline Reynolds

BY ALINE REYNOLDS | Imagine wearing a thick cloth bathrobe while in a medical examination room and leaving the doctor with all your personal medical information on a pocket-sized zip drive.

These are the types of patient-friendly services that will be provided at Medhattan, a new immediate care health center opening Downtown next month that promises to offer trend-setting patient care amid what its founders deem to be a “broken” health care system in New York City. The facility will be open 365 days a year at 106 Liberty St., across from the World Trade Center.

“I was trying to think of ways that patients can be seen quickly, efficiently and carefully, and it occurred to me that certain segments of patients at large really need this intermediary care,” said Dr. Leslie Miller, the center’s co-founder and an emergency room physician for 20 years.

The center will function as a much-needed alternative to emergency rooms and primary care doctors for people with acute but non-fatal illnesses, according to Miller’s wife, Dr. Alicia Salzer, Medhattan’s co-founder and a licensed psychiatrist.

“Say you’re in Battery Park City, and your kid has an asthma attack and needs a nebulizer, the prospect of getting into a cab and going to an E.R. is really daunting,” said Salzer, particularly since E.R. visits typically take between four and six hours. “You want a place where you can get seen immediately.”

Patients are special people, Miller said, in the sense that they don’t feel well and are afraid, so it’s important that they feel comfortable from the moment they walk in the center. She and Salzer tried to design the interior of the 3,000-square-foot facility to closely resemble a luxury hotel lobby. Patients will be greeted at the door by a concierge, who will offer them granola bars or fruit for their five-to-10 minute stay in the waiting room. The waiting area will have a soothing, naturalistic decor. There will also be dimmable L.E.D. lighting and a kid’s corner.

“We wanted it to be very welcoming and atmospheric so that, when you step in from the street, you feel like you are in a sanctuary,” said Salzer.

The patients will also be asked about health insurance. Those who lack coverage accepted by Medhattan are handed a price list of medical services, which will typically range from $200 to $400.

Within minutes of their arrival, Miller said, patients will be seen by a licensed physician. “The joke in the E.R. is, the waiting room is really called the ‘neglect’ room,” said Miller. “We’re going to try to make sure that doesn’t happen here.”

Miller and Salzer decided against hiring nurse practitioners and other triage staff so as to foster a more personal rapport between the patients and doctors.

“We don’t want people to have to tell their stories again and again,” said Salzer. “This way, you come in, you see a doctor and you stay with the doctor the whole time.”

While being seen by the physicians, Medhattan patients will be offered cozy, cloth bathrobes rather than the typical paper-thin ones found in most hospitals.

“I always feel that it’s hard to make a connection with my doctor sitting in a little thin robe,” said Salzer of her experience as a patient. “We’re trying to diminish that sense to the greatest extent possible.”

The doctors will be able to treat health problems such as asthma, pneumonia, diabetes, broken bones and hyperglycemia. Unlike most urgent care clinics, Miller said, Medhattan physicians will be able to fill medication prescriptions, conduct blood tests and provide intravenous therapy when necessary. The center will offer vaccinations to travelers from foreign countries as well as conduct on-site screenings for depression, anxiety and other mental ailments. Acupuncture and massage therapy will also be available.

Most patients, the doctors said, will leave Medhattan within 30 minutes of their arrival. Patients seeking more time with the doctors, however, won’t be rushed along as they often are in emergency rooms, Salzer said.

“Studies show that an enormous number of patients leave the E.R. without knowing what their diagnosis is. That’s an enormous problem,” said Salzer. “We want to make sure we give the time to do a little education about why we make the medical decisions we make, so our patients can be partners in those decisions.”

Medhattan and other pioneer centers like it, Miller explained, could help expedite emergency care for the critically ill in hospitals, since studies show that between 60 and 70 percent of emergency room patients don’t have life-threatening injuries. These centers could also fill the void in treatment created by general doctors who don’t tend to patients with acute illnesses or who don’t work on nights or weekends, Miller said.

The Medhattan staff will include 15 E.R. physicians, each of whom is a financial investor of the center and will work part-time there between shifts at various hospitals in the Tri-state area.

“These are not people who are moving toward retirement and don’t want to be in the stressful emergency room setting,” said Salzer. “We’re a team of physicians who all dug deep into their family savings to say, ‘I want an opportunity to take care of patients the way I imagined I’d be able to when I went to medical school.’”

“You’ll have doctors who have an inside track to the medical pulse of Manhattan. That’s something that cannot be underestimated,” chimed in Miller.

Opening the center at 106 Liberty St. has a special meaning to Salzer, who volunteered psychological therapy sessions to Ground Zero recovery workers at a makeshift medic station housed at the same site in the weeks after 9/11. “When this property became available, it spoke to my heart,” she said. Opening a medical facility Downtown, where there’s a need, and partaking in the neighborhood’s revitalization, “is really great,” she said.

People who believe they are suffering from strokes or heart attacks are advised to go to the E.R. instead of Medhattan. If they’re not sure of their illness, they can call Medhattan for a brief phone consultation, Miller said. Staff will arrange for transportation service for seriously ill patients who do visit the center.

The facility will open to the public on Thurs., Sept. 1. It will be open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturdays and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays.