The hulking Hickory Hollow Mall—a full 1.1 million square feet of retail space in southeastern Nashville—was once the largest shopping center in Tennessee. But like many malls, it’s been in a downward death spiral for more than a decade.
Now the mammoth complex surrounded by acres of parking is on track to join the ranks of malls making a transition into a booming economic sector: medicine. Vanderbilt University Medical Center has had such success reviving a different mall that its health system, Vanderbilt Health, plans to add medical clinics at the former Hickory Hollow Mall, rebranded a decade ago as the Global Mall at the Crossings.
“Most of these hospitals are in areas where there’s just no room to grow. And if you do, it’s so expensive,” said Andrew McDonald, a former hospital administrator who leads health care consulting for accounting and consulting firm LBMC. “These buildings are old. They’re antiquated. They’re very expensive to maintain.”
Malls make for a nice fit, at least for big health systems, McDonald said. They can essentially move everything short of the emergency room and intensive care unit—including surgery and imaging centers—and keep them clustered. While doctor offices are often scattered around a hospital district, in a mall setting, if someone needs an MRI, it’s right beyond the food court under the same sprawling roof.
“It just creates a whole lot more efficient flow for the patient going through the health care system with whatever infirmity they may have,” McDonald said.