Roswell Park moves ahead with plans for 590-spot parking ramp

Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center is moving ahead with plans to add another parking ramp to the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus as it sees a growing demand for medical treatment and a resulting increase in staffing.

The cancer hospital and research center wants to construct a seven-story garage with 590 spaces for its employees at the southwest corner of Carlton and Ellicott streets.

The site, at 45 Carlton St., is currently a surface lot.

The new ramp would be aimed at the institution’s employees, releasing spaces in the main ramp at Elm and Carlton streets for a growing number of patients coming to Roswell Park.

There’s already a yearslong waiting list for staff to get into the hospital’s main parking ramp with a permanent space.

“That will be tremendous for us, as that will have more spots freed up for our patients and families,” said Shirley Johnson, the hospital’s chief clinical operations officer. “It makes it really nice for some of our employees that work on that side of the campus as well.”

Parking problems are not new at the Medical Campus, which has grown in the last few years with construction of the Conventus Building, the John R. Oishei Children’s Hospital and University at Buffalo’s Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. Those projects brought about 5,000 more workers, students and professors to the campus, adding to the thousands that were already there and contributing to parking congestion.

Roswell Park also is facing extra demand for its medical services. That’s posing challenges both for the patients and for employees.

Roswell Park sees an average of about 1,000 people each day for outpatient care. But it posted a record Nov. 19, with 1,476 patients coming through its doors in one day.

“That was pretty significant,” Johnson said. “And there’s a lot of reasons for that.”

For one thing, she said, “patients are living longer with cancer and are surviving their disease to a degree that we’ve not seen in the past.” People are also living longer in general, which means more are eventually getting cancer. That means there’s more people coming for initial treatment, follow-up and survivorship care, Johnson said.

Roswell Park is also offering new treatments and therapies. It runs more clinical trials. And it’s recruited new faculty with expertise in areas that are drawing more attention.

Additionally, there’s the growing network of relationships that Roswell Park has developed with other hospitals and community doctors in the region. That includes two hospital-based clinics in Niagara Falls and Amherst.

But such efforts work both ways. On the one hand, Roswell Park doctors try to return patients as soon as possible to their local communities and regular physicians for follow-ups and ongoing surveillance, using a “share-care” model. At the same time, Roswell Park physicians are also branching further out into the surrounding geography, seeing more patients from remote locations — and bringing them back to the hospital for surgery or more complex care.

“That has really ramped up in the last year,” Johnson said. “We are seeing more patients transferred to us for a period of time before they go back to their primary community.”

In turn, the hospital then needs to hire additional staff to handle the influx. Roswell Park’s employee base has grown steadily over the past 20 years, but rose 12% in the last five years, driving up demand for parking, Johnson said.

“It’s an issue that’s not unique to us,” Johnson said. “Lots of cancer programs of my colleagues are experiencing many of the same things we are. They cannot build parking garages fast enough.”

Roswell Park issued a request for proposals in September for a firm to handle the design work on a new ramp, and it is now reviewing a series of responses it received. Those responses are being scored by staff, Johnson said.

The design must be completed by the end of next summer, before it would be submitted to the organization’s board for approval and prior to seeking a construction contractor, Johnson added. The cost is still to be determined, depending on the bids and the construction industry conditions at that time, but Johnson said officials hope to start work by late 2020.

Roswell Park, which is the second-largest institution on the Medical Campus after Kaleida Health, owns its primary three-level ramp and several small surface lots around some of its buildings, including at 901 Washington St. and the Clinical Sciences Center. It also leases additional parking spaces in other lots and ramps that are owned and operated by other Medical Campus organizations, such as the Michigan-Goodrich Garage.

Roswell Park has gained more than 900 parking spaces over the last 15 years. But with 3,560 employees, the demand is still outpacing the supply.

The priority, Johnson said, is on the patients. “Transportation, as well as parking, is one of the last things we want our patients to worry about when they’re already facing treatment,” Johnson said.

The Buffalo News, Nov. 22, 2019

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