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UF Health opens three specialty medical practices at Gainesville’s The Oaks Mall

UF Health officials opened the doors Wednesday to UF Health The Oaks, which brings three specialty practices into the former Sears retail space at The Oaks Mall on W Newberry Road, Gainesville.
UF Health officials opened the doors Wednesday to UF Health The Oaks, which brings three specialty practices into the former Sears retail space at The Oaks Mall on W Newberry Road, Gainesville.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — University of Florida Health today debuted three new specialty practices at The Oaks Mall, putting crucial services in the heart of the community and further invigorating Gainesville’s most popular shopping area with a distinctive, visually inspiring health care destination.

UF Health The Oaks comprises ophthalmology (eye specialties), otolaryngology (ear, nose and throat, including allergy) and audiology services provided by UF Health faculty in the 139,000-square-foot former Sears space at 6201 W. Newberry Road. The 14-month project completely reimagined the space with patient-focused features and welcoming, custom-designed artwork.

The mall is an excellent site for several reasons, said Ed Jimenez, CEO of UF Health Shands.

“The Oaks Mall delivers a location that is ideal for our patients and gives them convenient access to practices with exceptional national reputations. We are proud to be among the growing number of innovative health care systems that are bringing medicine to malls,” Jimenez said.

UF Health The Oaks includes 87 exam rooms, 15 procedure rooms including laser rooms, eight treatment rooms and 10 sound booths across the three practices. Visitors will have more than 500 parking spaces and easy access to shopping and dining. Patients can also shop for eyeglasses, contact lenses and hearing aids at two stores adjacent to the practices.

Both inside and outside spaces are augmented with thoughtfully curated, nature-themed art that includes murals, stunning photographs and unique mobiles.

“UF Health The Oaks is an exceptional example of how to best serve patients and the community,” said David R. Nelson, M.D., senior vice president for health affairs at UF and president of UF Health. “We now have expert physicians and other vital health resources in a location that is convenient for patients throughout the region. As demand for our ophthalmology, otolaryngology and audiology services continues to grow, UF Health is proud to bring its medical expertise, leading-edge technology and caring patient focus to a Gainesville landmark.”

Visitors and patients will immediately notice a host of amenities and aesthetics. Outside, a towering glass panel mural — the first of its kind at a UF Health facility — features 11 large, highly detailed images of native plants, animals and natural features. Inside, a terrazzo floor highlights the concourse connecting the parking area to the medical facilities and mall. Sunlight streams through skylights and custom-made mobiles spin slowly overhead.

From artwork to clinical space, no detail was overlooked. Glass walls separate the concourse from waiting rooms, letting natural light flow in. Lighting throughout the facility was chosen to mimic natural daylight. Ceilings typically reach 10 to 11 feet high and nurses’ stations are filled with glass and LED panels that resemble skylights.

“We wanted to create a different environment for both the staff and patients. We used a lot of glass so that waiting rooms and nurses’ stations feel very open and airy,” said Bradley Pollitt, A.I.A., UF Health Shands Facilities Development vice president.

Small but thoughtful changes will enhance the patient experience: Examination rooms are grouped in “pods” of six to 12 by specialty, giving patients easy access within a large space. Smaller waiting areas abound, meaning patients can stay close to their exam room during procedures like eye dilation, Pollitt said.

The mall’s location and easy access fills many needs for patients and physicians, said Marvin A. Dewar, M.D., J.D., CEO and chief medical officer of UF Health Physicians and a senior associate dean of the UF College of Medicine. The ophthalmology and otolaryngology practices draw patients from throughout the state and region, Dewar said. Likewise, physicians from those practices will be able to perform many procedures on site when a 20,000-square-foot radiology and outpatient surgery center opens later this year.

To optimize the patient experience, architectural design teams that had created similar medical practices elsewhere were consulted, and UF Health physicians provided crucial input. The idea, Dewar said, was to design spaces that prevent backlogs and are seamless for patients and staff. That led to small but crucial design elements: Eye treatments are highly specialized, so patients and physicians are now grouped together based on needs.

The added space also provides other opportunities, Dewar said. Many ear, nose and throat patients also need hearing tests, and the location provides space to integrate those services. Likewise, UF Health patients — even those who aren’t ophthalmology or otolaryngology patients — will now have a convenient place to have blood drawn for lab tests.

“It’s a great location for all of that,” Dewar said.

It also puts accomplished, dedicated physicians, innovative medicine and additional clinical space close to patients’ homes and jobs. The location nicely complements UF Health’s other two main locations in Gainesville — the UF Health campus on Archer Road and the multispecialty practice sites at Springhill, Dewar said.

The ENT and audiology space was designed with substantial input from faculty, staff and medical residents, said Patrick J. Antonelli, M.D., chair of the UF College of Medicine’s department of otolaryngology.

“This new space is friendlier. Now, we are providing audiology, radiology, ENT and laboratory services in a single, convenient location. It also has the added benefit of patients being able to do some shopping when they are visiting our practices,” he said.

The new otolaryngology practice brings together all practitioners for the cochlear implant program, which uses a “bionic ear” to restore hearing. Its radiology and lab services will provide a one-stop destination for ear, nose and throat care. The ear, nose and throat practice has 21 examination rooms and seven procedure rooms. In audiology, there are eight treatment rooms and 10 booths for hearing tests.

The location is especially appealing for eye patients because it has plentiful public transportation for patients who don’t drive due to vision issues, said Sonal S. Tuli, M.D., chair of the UF College of Medicine’s department of ophthalmology. Inside, the ophthalmology space has thoughtful features such as color-coded lighting and signs to help visually impaired patients navigate easily. “One of the best things about this location is that we were able to build and design our practice to our specifications to make it convenient and efficient for patients,” Tuli said.

In ophthalmology, UF Health has the only practice in the region that covers every subspecialty, including cataracts, corneal transplants, pediatric ophthalmology, retinal surgery, refractive surgery, oculoplastics, glaucoma, and low-vision services. It also is the only practice in the region to perform novel procedures such as “bionic eye” retinal implants, artificial corneas and miniature telescopes to improve vision loss caused by macular degeneration. The practice has 66 examination rooms, four laser rooms, four procedure rooms, and an optical area for glasses and contact lenses.

“The additional space will allow us to further expand our services and create centers for advanced retinal and ocular surface disorders that will provide patients in the region with leading-edge eye care,” Tuli said.

Mall officials are also pleased about the reinvigorated space.

“Here at The Oaks, our primary goal is to serve our community. We can’t think of a better way to do this than by collaborating with UF Health to share our space with a state-of-the-art health care facility that will serve those who have supported us over the years,” said Angie McCann, senior general manager of the mall. “We strive to provide everything under one roof for our guests and this goes far beyond apparel. The use of retail space has transformed dramatically over the years, and we are proud to welcome the new practices to the property.”

Innovation at UF Health The Oaks goes far beyond medicine and patient care. The space is heated and cooled with variable refrigerant flow, a technology that Pollitt said should reduce energy consumption by more than half compared with traditional methods.

Amid the new technology and clinical spaces, patients and visitors will also find an abundance of art. That includes large, hand-shaped mobiles — meant to symbolize the caring hands of health care workers — in the main concourse. Within the practices, hundreds of photographs taken by UF Health employees line the walls and pieces by professional artists enrich waiting rooms. A focal point in the concourse is a photograph of an oak tree on Kanapaha Prairie by Gainesville-based conservation photographer Mac Stone. The image — 15 feet long and 8 feet high — is printed on multidepth aluminum panels and augmented with museum-quality lighting.

“It has a luminosity to it that will make it like a beacon,” said Tina Mullen, M.F.A., director of the UF Health Shands Arts in Medicine program.

Designing the aesthetics for such a large, repurposed space was unprecedented for UF Health. Ultimately, the art includes literal and symbolic representations of the practices’ missions and the region’s natural features.

“Nature is the undercurrent of many aesthetic decisions that are made in health care design,’’ Mullen said. “We also know that our patients are deeply embedded in the natural experiences of North Central Florida. We wanted the space to reflect that.”

The mall site allows the three practices to expand while also benefiting other UF Health practices. About 110 employees in the UF Health ophthalmology and ear nose and throat practices have moved to the new space, which is leased for 20 years with four additional five-year options. Space at the UF Health Medical Plaza on Southwest Archer Road formerly occupied by ophthalmology will be used to expand other medical services. Construction and renovation of the three practices cost $30 million with an additional $30 million for the surgical center.

The move also puts UF Health at the forefront of a growing movement to bring medical services to malls. In 2017, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute struck a long-term deal to redevelop a former mall near Boston. Vanderbilt Health has transformed part of a once-struggling mall into a multiclinic health and wellness destination near its Nashville, Tennessee campus. Earlier this year, the Mall of America announced a collaboration with University of Minnesota physicians to bring a walk-in clinic with exam rooms, radiology services and a pharmacy to the site.

The UF Health project began attracting attention even before it opened: Pollitt, the facilities chief, said he fielded about 10 calls from other companies and institutions that were interested in learning more about the transformative work.

For more information, please contact Doug Bennett at or 352-273-5706.

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Doug Bennett
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