Priti Pandya-Patel is a woman with a vision. She sees what others don't and that's been the key to her success. "When Priti heard about and visited the former Mercer Hospital campus in Trenton, she described her dream of developing a one-stop medical facility that would include a variety of medical uses for the general public," says John Simone, president of Simone Realty. "It took her only a short time to recognize what many others could not visualize in the potential of the vacant and shuttered hospital."
For more than three years Simone Realty had been marketing the property and had shown it to more than 30 healthcare organizations. "None was able to see the potential that was almost immediately apparent to Priti." Less than three months later, in September 2013, Pandya-Patel was the owner of the property.
Today, she has developed enough interest in the project to fill nearly all of its 650,000 square feet. She has done that in just a couple of months. "It's unbelievable, but that's Priti," says Simone, who first became acquainted with Pandya-Patel about 10 years ago when her company was a tenant in one of his medical office buildings in Princeton.
REIMAGINING HEALTHCARE IN TRENTON
The former Mercer Hospital is now called the GLE Health and Wellness Plaza. Quite simply, says Pandya-Patel, "Some people live as though nothing is possible. I live as though anything is possible." Her plans are to refashion the 100-year-old facility as a medical mall, complete with a front lobby that has a waterfall.
It's that philosophy that has propelled Pandya-Patel's 20-plus years in the healthcare business. The 43-year-old is CEO and co-founder of the International Sleep Network and Global Life Enterprises in Trenton. She has five full-time employees and runs a multi-million-dollar operation with sleep therapy facilities stationed throughout the state of New Jersey.
Nearly 10 years ago, she pioneered the first independent, state-licensed sleep laboratory in New Jersey and she has owned and operated 12 different sleep diagnostic centers in five other states. She sold some and closed others due to economic reasons. Today, she has four facilities and is reorganizing with plans to relaunch the business as the Comprehensive Sleep Network, which will focus on occupational medicine with sleep diagnostics and will work with commercial drivers, many of whom she says are sleep deprived or may not get quality sleep.
The past several years, Pandya-Patel was searching for the ideal site for a health and wellness complex. She had Sayreville in mind, but after Sandy hit, she looked elsewhere and found Mercer Hospital. She estimates the complex will be home to 300-400 local jobs, and services could include vocational training, assisted living, a nursing home, geriatric hospital, medical offices, hospice care, retail spaces, a pharmacy, a cafe, adult day care, meeting rooms, and an auditorium for public use. She gets excited when she talks about people being able to go the lab or physical therapy, to see a psychologist, to go to the gym, to take yoga classes, and other vital services all under one roof.
"There will be all brand new services. This will bring momentum to Trenton and bring life to where there is no life," Pandya-Patel says. While her facility will not offer emergency room or surgical services, she does want long-term acute care. "There is not one long-term acute care bed available in Mercer County. Right now, patients have to go to South Jersey or Pennsylvania."
DON'T LEAVE HOME WITHOUT IT
Her vision also includes the Global Life Card. Cardholders would have a unique ID number that would be used wherever they go around the world to receive medical services.
If you have an emergency and you have the card, you can go to the hospital, put your password in, and your pertinent information is there. The hospital can see your allergies, what medications you're taking, and avoid mistakes, according to Pandya-Patel. "This card can save lives," she says. The card can also be an organizer, she says, which is handy if you're traveling and lose your passport. You can access vital information with it.
There is excitement in her voice when she talks about the GLC. She explains that her passion is driven by personal experience. When her son was two years old, he was diagnosed with leukemia. "When he goes off to college I won't be there to tell the doctor all the details of his medical history," Pandya-Patel says. There's little to worry about though, if he has the card full of information. Furthermore, "The card will have an 800-number where you can call the next of kin," she says.
The GLC would provide networking for personal, financial, medical/health, and legal information. Users will be able to access and update their information using a computer through online, phone support or a USB smart card. The information syncs to the cloud so it can be accessed anywhere and documents are encrypted as the card aims to decrease insurance fraud, make it easier for patients to have access to their health records, decrease medical mistakes, cut down on repetitive medical tests, and more.
"My kids are a big part this. My son and daughter started the concept three years ago. My son came up with the name and my daughter came up with the logo," Pandya-Patel says of her children Neil, 14, and Jenna, 16.
The GLC is in its prototype stage and she hopes to have it live this year. Pandya-Patel initially did some fundraising through crowdfunding, but she says she is tapping other private resources and investors. She hopes that once the prototype is finished, people will have a better idea of what she envisions and that she will be able to get contracts with insurance companies, government agencies, healthcare institutions, and others to help with funding.
She believes the GLC will be a part of her legacy.
"It is a way to change healthcare," she says, "to empower patients so they have more control over their health records and their health."
BUILDING A BRAND AND A FAMILY
Pandya-Patel, who was born in Gujarati, India, and lived most of her life in New Jersey, says the healthcare field was a logical choice for her, as she has been a natural caregiver for as far back as she can remember. She started her career by getting a license and associate's degree in physical therapy, a BA in therapeutic recreation administration, and an MBA in healthcare administration. She has spent more than 20 years in the industry, working in elder care, rehabilitative, and healthcare facilities.
"Everything that has happened in the past 20 years has brought me to this point," she says. "All the people I have met along the way, the connections I have made, and the things I've learned about what people need and want are all from healthcare. I'm goal-oriented. I like to find solutions to problems and to get results."
Susan Hohner, vice president of the International Sleep Network, says few people are as motivated as her boss. "Her drive to accomplish is her food. She does what it takes to get things done," she says.
What impresses Hohner most is Pandya-Patel's commitment. "She does whatever she says she will do. She keeps her promises." That commitment includes patients, too. "She has passed up deals that would have made money, but if it wasn't really in the best interest of patients, she has said no," Hohner says. "Patient care is her priority."
Despite the demands of her business, she has coached basketball and softball, is vice president of the Iselin-based Asian-Indian Chamber of Commerce, and is involved with various professional and civic organizations.
She is passionate about her business, but even more passionate about her family. Her husband and two children are her top priorities.
"I spend quality time with my children. We cook, clean, shop together, we work as a team. I involve them in everything I do. My kids have come with me to help set up a facility, or they will come with me to volunteer when I'm helping out at non-profit events," says Pandya-Patel. "I spend time teaching them Indian culture, our religion, and customs."
Rajesh Grover, a friend for 25 years, and business partner for a decade, says of Pandya-Patel: "She is a coach to her family and friends. They come to her for suggestions and input on anything and everything."
She's is now at a turning point in her business, reorganizing the International Sleep Network and launching the GLE Health and Wellness Plaza, the GLC, and other ventures that aren't on the public radar yet.
"I don't regret anything," she says. "Every experience, good or bad has made me a strong person. I've learned the most from the worst experiences."
That optimism and her ability to see the good in everything square up with what she says is her motto: Live life to the fullest, love as much as possible, and laugh as often as you can.