Case Studies

Michelle Pagnano – DaVita Kidney Care

Extending time and hope for dialysis patients

The long wait is down to less than a year for DaVita Kidney Care to relocate its Kansas City dialysis clinic. Since the mid-2010s, this leading provider of kidney care services had been looking for a new facility in Missouri’s largest city, but as any healthcare operator will attest, it can be a long and exhaustive process before the right location is found for its patients.

Last year DaVita found what it had been looking for in a four-story multi-tenant office building of nearly 40,000 square feet off busy Madison Avenue in the Plaza Westport Neighborhood. Come early next year, DaVita anticipates occupying around one-quarter of the building on the first and part of the second floor while leasing the rest to prospective tenants whose services it deems complementary. It’s keeping Michelle Pagnano busy as she celebrates her first anniversary as director of real estate for DaVita’s Development Program.

Michelle Pagnano | Director of Real Estate Development | DaVita Kidney Care

Michelle Pagnano | Director of Real Estate Development | DaVita Kidney Care

And what an eventful year it’s been for Pagnano, who in August 2022 left a real estate consultant role at a competing dialysis provider amongst other clients, for a full-time position at DaVita. DaVita provides its services to 200,000 patients through nearly 2,800 U.S. clinics as well as several hundred more in 10 other countries.

Her new employer, she explains, is fairly unique as far as healthcare providers go—its real estate footprint is partially augmented by a wholly owned real estate subsidiary through the DaVita Development Program.

“Within the healthcare industry, not every Fortune 500 company has the desire and resources internally to develop properties and serve as a landlord to meet operational needs,” Pagnano tells Blueprint in June while immersed in the Kansas City project. “That’s why the DaVita Development Program was created. We build and thoughtfully redevelop properties in communities in which we serve so that we can begin treating patients as soon as possible.”

A need met

Though no real estate project of such magnitude can be considered simple, Pagnano says she is grateful for the local support to push it forward. Whereas the building had been zoned residential, municipal boards and the local neighborhood association were mostly comfortable—some even enthusiastic—in it being converted for dialysis and DaVita also attracting other desirable tenants that could provide much-needed services to the community.

The structure having been built in 1960, she says it’s outdated and overdue for capital improvements, for which DaVita is committed. The zoning change having been OK’d in April, everything’s on track for a midsummer closing and exterior and interior upgrades. Meanwhile her team of eight acts as the landlord, ready for prospective tenants to fill the 20,000-square-foot vacancy, and looking for properties to acquire elsewhere that also fit the corporate strategy.

“We’ve gotten so good at what we do and are excited by opportunities that challenge us to find creative solutions to solve complex real estate problems by leaning on our team’s collective expertise,” Pagnano says.

Michelle Pagnano | Director of Real Estate Development | DaVita Kidney Care

With DaVita covering much geographic area, there’s always something pending on the real estate front. The DDP subsidiary may buy DaVita clinics from other parties and add to the bottom line either through decrease in rent or reinvestment into facilities upgrades. Site-selection, entitlement, acquisition, design and construction—it’s all in a day’s work.

And it’s precisely what she has wanted to do since college.

“I’ve always been interested in real estate,” Pagnano says. “I took it upon myself to learn all I could, and I am grateful for those who have mentored me along the way and taught me how to be an effective leader.”

Learning on the fly

That real estate passion expedited her formal learning, Pagnano having been so eager to enter the business world that she graduated Eckerd College in just two and a half years with honors. It was at that school in St. Petersburg, Florida, where Professor Emeritus of Management Frank Hamilton encouraged her to pursue independent studies along with a real estate license for college credit. Hamilton having connections in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area, he introduced the young Pagnano to businesspeople who would help fast-track her corporate real estate career. Her learning never stops with three real estate licenses under her belt and a master’s degree underway from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign.

Having distinguished herself while consulting for Fortune 500 companies, Pagnano had the opportunity to come in-house for DaVita. It was a leap of faith, she says, but one that’s worked out for the better.

“The stars really aligned. I’m blessed with the best management team that gives me the wherewithal and bandwidth to do as I see fit to find ways to create value for DaVita,” Pagnano says.

Michelle Pagnano | Director of Real Estate Development | DaVita Kidney Care

She also lauds her team and its managers and directors with whom they interact. Everyone’s a teammate rather than an employee, she says, and belongs to a village.

That village should grow, Pagnano noting the need for more dialysis clinics throughout the U.S. to buy precious time for patients in need of kidney transplants and dialysis treatments. DaVita primarily treating end-stage renal disease, its patients may undergo treatment three times a week while hoping for appropriate donor.

“It’s fulfilling to know we’re building clinics that are saving lives,” she says. “When we decide to go ground-up, our motivation is the date which we’ll begin treating patients.”

DaVita—Italian for “giving life”—also is going green, an initiative it undertook pre-Pagnano, but one she’s thrilled to support. Among DaVita’s holdings is the nation’s first net-zero dialysis center in Conyers, Georgia, which generates clean energy onsite that at least equals what it consumes.

Pagnano’s enthused about setting up more facilities to meet DaVita’s environmental, social and governance goals.

As she explains, she was a “setter” long before beginning her professional career. In high school and college, Pagnano was a volleyball setter—the player relied upon to delicately tap the ball to one of the tall attackers in the front row for a strategic play. To this day, she retains that quarterback strategy.

“I love acting as a catalyst on my team,” she says. “My goal is to be a transformational leader within DaVita and inspire my team to take on challenges that lead us to grow.”

View this feature in the Blueprint Vol. VII 2023 Edition here.

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