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Mall sees future in medical tenants

Physical therapy technician Tricia Fellows works at New Mexico Orthopaedics’ new facility at Winrock Mall. Roberto E. Rosales/Journal

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

New Mexico’s first mall added an unusual anchor tenant earlier this year – one which could help chart the course for the rest of its renovation.

New Mexico Orthopaedics opened its three-story, 68,000-square-foot facility on the west side of Winrock Town Center in January, by the former home of Montgomery Ward. Jeffrey Racca, an orthopedic surgeon with the center, in early March said the facility was seeing around 650 patients per day for services ranging from physical therapy to MRI work, all in a mall setting with other amenities nearby.

“The idea was to be one-stop shopping, basically,” Racca said.

While the main mall is currently closed amid efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19, New Mexico Orthopaedics has an exterior entrance and is still open for business as a healthcare provider.

New Mexico Orthopaedics maintained a clinic on Presbyterian Hospital’s campus for around two decades. However, Racca said the facility near Downtown was landlocked, with no room to grow.

Consequently, as the practice added doctors and physical therapists, Racca said it increasingly had to move things offsite, making it harder for physical therapists to communicate with doctors, and vice versa.

While a mall might seem an odd location for a healthcare center, medical providers are increasingly turning to malls for available space, as changing retail trends force big-box stores to adapt or fold.

“You have these large buildings that were retail 20 years ago, and that model just doesn’t work anymore,” said James Jones, director of healthcare information systems for New Mexico Orthopaedics.

Racca added that the orthopedic company was drawn to the mall because of its relatively central location and abundant parking.

The three-story facility has an MRI system in the basement, which Racca said has more space than a traditional cramped machine.

The ground floor features an area for check-in, but Jones said the facility deliberately did away with traditional check-in and check-in desks, as a way to streamline the process for patients.

Racca said the layout places physical therapists, doctors and other staff in close proximity to one another, making it easy to coordinate on patient care.

While the building has been extensively renovated, long-time visitors to Winrock may notice a couple of homages to the old mall, including an original skylight in the visitor waiting area.

New Mexico Orthopaedics was one of the first new tenants to move into Winrock during the mall’s multi-million-dollar conversion into a mixed-use facility. Since then, another medical practitioner, TriCore Reference Laboratories, has signed on.

“We’re helping revitalize a mall that’s been basically stagnant for 15, 20 years,” Racca said.

Nancy Adelsheim, executive director of New Mexico Orthopaedics, said the organization is in contact with other medical providers, and would love to see other medical groups come to Winrock, creating a medical hub at the revitalized mall.

“I just think it’s so advantageous for our patients,” Adelsheim said.

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