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Albuquerque Business First

David Vandewater, president and CEO of Ardent Health Services, which owns Lovelace Health System, says consumer access is a big reason why Lovelace is rebuilding its physicians' group.

In 2007, Lovelace Health System spun off its physicians’ group into ABQ Health Partners in what some observers described as a messy divorce.

In November 2012 the split became final when the two firms failed to renew a contract for ABQ Health Partners to care for Lovelace Health Plan patients.

Now, Lovelace is in the process of rebuilding its physician group, Lovelace Medical Group.

The practice now has 75 providers, including doctors, nurses and physician assistants, and is growing as needed. In the past eight months the practice has recruited 20 to 25 doctors and midlevel practitioners, most of them from outside of the Albuquerque market and state, said Dr. John Cruickshank, chief medical officer for Lovelace Health System.

“We are not only rebuilding, but we are recruiting talent to the community. We have added them because of the need to improve access with the New Mexico Health Insurance exchange coming in January and all the new insured people coming into the system. There is no way we would have been able to take care of them without bringing in” new practitioners, Cruickshank said.

“In my opinion we in New Mexico are still behind in having enough practitioners and we need to keep our focus on this for the next couple of years. We need to provide more access. Lovelace Medical Group is alive and well.”

The rebuilding process began in late 2012, when Lovelace bought Southwest Medical Associates, a physicians’ practice in Albuquerque. The purchase came shortly after Lovelace and ABQ Health Partners had their highly public split.

Lovelace is owned by Nashville, Tenn.-based Ardent Health Services. During a recent visit to Albuquerque to celebrate the opening of a new Lovelace clinic, Ardent President and CEO David Vandewater confirmed that the company is in the process of rebuilding its medical group.

“You are absolutely correct,” Vandewater said when asked if the medical group was rebuilding, adding that the company is trying to provide more access to its customers.

“Access is important. The closer you can get to the consumer, the better the care will be,” Vandewater said.

Not only is Lovelace rebuilding its medical group, it is also on somewhat of a facility binge. It has several facility projects in the works for the coming year, Cruickshank said.

On Sept. 20, Cruickshank, Vandewater and other Lovelace officials celebrated the opening of its latest primary care clinic in Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights. The 5,000-square-foot Lovelace Health Care Center at 8401 Constitution NE has 15 exam rooms and will be staffed by three practitioners, Cruickshank said.

In mid-October Lovelace will open an 8,000-square-foot ob/gyn women’s service center on the campus of the Lovelace Women’s Hospital in Northeast Albuquerque. On Oct. 1, the firm will open an urgent care location on Paseo del Norte and Golf Course Road on the city’s west side, and in January 2014, the firm plans to open another primary care clinic on Paseo del Norte on the city’s east side. That facility will also house a Lovelace pharmacy, Cruickshank added.

“We’re trying to put in some one-stop shopping so patients can see their provider and get their prescriptions filled,” Cruickshank said.

Lovelace will continue hiring more doctors and building facilities as the need arises.

“The goal is going to be met by demand. We will grow wisely,” Cruickshank said.

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