Health care of future? HMH Metropark to offer intriguing concept

Putting mixed-used project (medical, office, retail, residential) at train station figures to greatly increase access to care for consumers — and help HMH attract more health care professionals

The numbers around HMH Metropark, the transformatively unique mixed-use health and wellness facility that will bring health care services, retail and residential to the Metropark transit station in Woodbridge, are impressive.

The 12-acre project, which will go up on the underutilized parking lot neck to the parking deck at the state’s second-busiest train station, will include:

  • Approximately 245,000 square feet for Hackensack Meridian Health for corporate and medical office space (including approximately 60,000 square feet of health care facilities);
  • Approximately 325,000 square feet of residential (including 188 market-rate and 47 affordable units);
  • Approximately 12,000 square feet of retail space (with numerous promises for a top-level restaurant);
  • All while creating approximately 1,000 jobs.

This, at a station that services approximately 1.5 million people via New Jersey Transit each year (which doesn’t include Amtrak riders).

The ceremonial groundbreaking. (Tom Bergeron/ROI-NJ)

Those numbers add up to big things for Hackensack Meridian Health and its mission to transform health care — and certainly were the talk of a ground-breaking ceremony on Friday.

But, when CEO Bob Garrett looks at the project, he can’t help but look at how it will impact one person at a time.

There’s the commuter who can now easily get their prescription filled, do a blood test or go for imaging — on the way to or from work.

And there’s the commuter who now will have easy access to a primary care physician or specialty services or surgeries. There even will be urgent care services.

“Health care should be as accessible as possible,” Garrett said after the ceremony. “We should be part of the fabric of the communities we serve.”

In addition to the greater Woodbridge area, that community will be anyone who has access to a train.

Garrett said the facility will address one of the biggest social determinants of health — lack of transportation, which trails only food insecurity and housing as a key factor for poor health.

Now, Garrett said, anyone with access to a train station will have access to top health care.

This expanded access will impact another segment of society — young workers who do have doctors.

Garrett said that, currently, one in four people do not have access to a primary care physician. The number goes to one in two for those under 30, he said.

“Younger people access health care in new ways,” he said. “They are going to do it virtually unless it is really convenient to them. That’s what we’ll have here.”

And, because it’s a busy transit hub, with high-speed trains coming, the facility will be able to easily see patients from as far away as Philadelphia or New York.

This will help HMH in recruiting new doctors, too, Garrett said.

It’s why Garrett is so excited by the new model.

“I think this will be a role model for the entire nation,” he said. “I think there should be more of these types of facilities, not only at train stations, but in airports and bus terminals. It just makes perfect sense.”

It certainly makes sense to Gov. Phil Murphy.

Murphy politely called Metropark an uncut gem — a hub that clearly was not being fully utilized.

It will be now. And, more than that, it will spur even more development, he predicted.

Murphy said these types of cutting-edge health care hubs around the country have historically led to high-quality talent coming to the area — leading to high-tech companies being spun off.

It is why Murphy was thrilled the New Jersey Economic Development Authority gave the project a $114 million Aspire award on Thursday, which will be added to the $200 million HMH is bringing to the table.

A worthy investment, Murphy said.

“It will change people’s lives for the better,” he said.

And sooner rather than later, those at the event said.

The project, which blossomed out of HMH’s need to have a singular headquarters, went from a can-we-really-do-this concept to a groundbreaking in 18 months.

Garrett said he hopes to have the medical offices open in another 18 months — approximately the third quarter of 2025.

Jose Lozano, executive vice president and chief growth officer for Hackensack Meridian Health, and the driver of the project, said the project speaks to HMH’s vision as it not only allows the system to consolidate its corporate offices, but it will do so in a way in which everyone will benefit.

“Metropark offers Hackensack Meridian Health the amazing opportunity to expand access to quality care by meeting patients in a convenient location they pass through daily,” he said. “It also allows HMH to offer an energetic, sustainable and accessible workspace for our team members in a great location, complete with mass transit, retail and health care, allowing HMH to continue to attract top talent from across the Northeast. We are thrilled to partner with JLL and (Dinallo, Onyx and Russo) on this innovative project.”

Key leaders in Middlesex County are equally enthused.

Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Woodbridge), who calls the township home, said the project’s impact cannot be overstated.

“By turning Metropark Station into a modern hub for transit, residence, retail and business, we are creating an economic driver for Woodbridge, Middlesex County and the state,” he said. “By including Hackensack Meridian’s Health and Wellness Center at the transit hub, residents will be able to receive comprehensive health care, creating an example of accessibility others across the country will follow.

“On a personal level, my constituents will benefit with access to world-class health care professionals and facilities, and the project gives the Metropark office park community a well-timed jolt.”

Woodbridge Mayor John McCormac was thrilled.

“Hackensack Meridian Health is making a major investment in Woodbridge Township,” he said. “In doing so, it is bringing hundreds of high-paying jobs to our economy while delivering a shot in the arm to the Metropark train station and improving our local traffic flow throughout the area.”

Middlesex County Commissioner Director Ronald Rios said the project is another example of why he feels the county is ahead of the curve.

“We are modernizing and reimagining our infrastructure in every corner in this county,” he said. “My colleagues and I on the board of county commissioners know that these upgrades will not only enhance accessibility of health care for everyone, but also enable our regional economy to grow and thrive.

“This is yet another example of how our county, with its partners, continues to innovate to meet the current and future needs of our community.”