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Nix closure ends downtown era

about 600 employees notified in september hospital shutting down

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Although the Nix Medical Center has closed, recruiters from other San Antonio health care systems have been interviewing veteran employees of the hospital. Photo by Collette Orquiz

Bits of the Nix Medical Center are disappearing.

Surgeries have stopped, employees have left, and soon everything must go as Los Angeles-based health care company Prospect Medical Holdings approaches permanent closure of the 89-year-old, 208-bed acute care center downtown.

And as the building at 414 Navarro St. where generations came into this world and received medical treatment is shuttered, pieces of it — mementos — are being spirited away, especially anything small that has the word “Nix,” say observers.

That’s because the city’s — and perhaps the nation’s — first “medical mall,” with a hospital, doctors’ offices and a host of other services in one place, is more than just a medical facility going out of business. It also is a part of the city’s history.

Developer Joseph Madison Nix built the J.M. Nix building 11 years before the dedication of the two-year River Walk construction project that would come to indelibly define San Antonio.

Employees were notified of the hospital closing in early September, weeks after Prospect said it would shut down its home-health care operation, which employed about 18 people.

The building itself has been on the market for several months, so the impending closure wasn’t a surprise.

Citing increased competition from other health care systems operating downtown, Prospect said in a letter to state regulators that it didn’t have the business needed to keep the hospital going.

Former employees told LOCAL Community News, on condition of anonymity, that the hospital struggled with debt from a flood cleanup and contractual issues. Prospect will maintain the behavioral health side of the business in San Antonio, which has facilities near the South Texas Medical Center.

Calls to Nix Health to discuss the closure were referred to Prospect spokesman Gary Hopkins, who, after repeated phone calls, declined to comment in a text message.

It is unclear what will happen with the Nix Alamo Heights site on Broadway near Austin Highway. Numerous medical groups and individual physicians practice there and use the surgical facility. One industry observer said the location is operated under a different arrangement than the hospital and may not feel any impact.

Downtown, it will be a bittersweet parting for nearly 600 laid-off Nix hospital employees.

However, recruiters from other San Antonio health care systems actively have been seeking out Nix workers, from environmental services to nurses and administrators.

Methodist Healthcare System, which has several facilities in San Antonio, interviewed 150 Nix employees at two recruitment events in September. The company already has hired 29 former Nix workers and 47 more were still in the interview process in late September, said Analissa Lunoff, director of talent acquisition at Methodist.

Lunoff said the hiring covers a range of jobs, with a concentration among registered nurses, nurse assistants and workers in environmental services, which includes housekeeping. Some hospital executives and administrators also may make the move.

“There’s a lot of people who have been there for a long time,” Lunoff said, recalling one Nix veteran who received an interview and advice from Methodist recruiters. “She had never had to write a resume, never had to do an interview in 40 years.”

“They are going to be in high demand because they are experienced staff,” added Barry Burns, vice president of human resources at Methodist.

Because of the competition for the Nix employees from companies such as Baptist Health System, Christus Health and University Health System, Methodist is honoring years on the previous job to determine paid time off, benefits and seniority.

Prospect bought Nix in 2012 after eight years of ownership by Merit Health Systems, a private investor that brought much-needed capital for upgrades to equipment and facilities. While Merit acted more as a holding company, putting money in to improve the value of its investment, most decision-making remained local from the 2004 purchase to the 2012 sale to Prospect.

Former Nix employees and Nix workers commenting on social media said all that changed in recent years with a revolving door of administrators and frequent visits from corporate officials in Los Angeles. Prospect owns hospitals and other health care assets in Southern California and New England.

Industry insiders say the 24-story, 310,000-square-foot Nix building — bounded by the River Walk, Navarro and College Street — is under contract. The Houston office of commercial real estate broker Newmark, Knight, Frank still has the building and its three-story garage listed for sale on its website.

The River Walk level of the building is leased on a long-term contract by Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., part of the Houston-based company that owns Landry’s and numerous other restaurants around the planet.

The last major renovation to the building was in 1970, according to the real estate company website. That means, like most commercial and institutional buildings constructed or updated before the mid-1970s, there is likely fire-retardant asbestos in the building. Major renovations are expensive because asbestos removal needs to keep the health-hazardous material from crumbling and going airborne into the lungs of workers and tenants.

While the exterior of the building is protected from change under historic preservation rules, the interior can be altered to match any use from condos to hotel space.

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