Officials break ground on U. facility expected to increase University Hospital's capacity

SALT LAKE CITY — The Ambulatory Care Complex, expected to significantly expand capacity at University Hospital, broke ground Friday, ushering in a considerable milestone in changes coming to the University of Utah’s health campus.

The building is part of the Utah Health Campus Transformation Project, which was launched with the three-pronged goal of improving and further integrating research, medical training and patient care.

“Everyone on our campus has a stake in this project, from the faculty, staff, students and especially our patients,” Dr. Lorris Betz, interim senior vice president for Health Sciences at the U., told doctors, researchers and administrators at a short ceremony on campus.

The Ambulatory Care Complex, at 305,000 square feet, will have a capacity for about 100,000 outpatient visits annually and provide University Hospital with 72 more inpatient beds. It will cost $131.5 million to build and is expected to be finished by the summer of 2019.

The complex is expected to be funded through clinical revenues generated by University Hospital, said Dan Lundergan, an executive director and interim chief operating officer at the hospital.

University of Utah Health spokeswoman Suzanne Winchester said the center will consist of “new treatment rooms, inpatient beds, flexible outpatient clinic modules and state-of-the-art surgical suites.”

A rehabilitation hospital and a facility known as the Medical Education and Discovery Complex are also expected to be built within the next five years as part of the same project. Lundergan said the new facilities will assist in recruiting top-rated doctors, researchers and professors to campus.

“This gets us into a better work environment and gives us greater clinical capacity to meet the (needs) of patients,” Lundergan told the Deseret News. “Any time you have more modern buildings, more space to function, that’s always going to be a tool for us (in recruiting).”

Combined, the facilities’ construction, when including associated demolition costs, is expected to require $423.5 million. Funds from the other two facilities will be funded through a combination of revenues, private donations and state appropriations, Lundergan said.

Lundergan added that the idea of the new facilities is not only to upgrade the campus, but to ensure researchers, educators and clinicians work as closely together as possible. That’s partly why the three facilities will be in tight proximity to one another, he said.

Lundergan credited the work of both Betz and Dr. Vivian Lee, former president of the U. medical school, CEO of University of Utah Health and senior vice president of health sciences at the U., for envisioning the capabilities of the new building.

During remarks at the groundbreaking ceremony, University of Utah Health chief financial officer and interim CEO Gordon Crabtree echoed the same gratitude for Lee, who resigned from her positions in April following the controversy that erupted over her firing of Huntsman Cancer Institute CEO Mary Beckerle, who was later reinstated.

Without Lee, “this whole initiative would not have gained traction and we thank her for that,” Crabtree said to enthusiastic applause.

Dr. Mary Beth Scholand of the Department of Internal Medicine, who undertook the title of “outpatient chief value officer” during the conceptualizing of the Ambulatory Care Complex, praised her colleagues for joining her in numerous 7 a.m. meetings to hammer out the details of how the new facility would operate.

“The patient was always in the center of all our discussions. In that lens, we shared ideas, expressed concerns,” Scholand said. “This focus was on creating a pleasant, inviting space for our patients where they felt comfortable and where clinical work flow was easy.”

U. President David Pershing joined the speakers and a handful of others in putting shovels to dirt in the short ceremony. The real construction will begin in earnest in August. The project will add to a litany of other construction projects throughout the U. campus, Betz said.

“As one project ends and another one begins we see ourselves … getting closer and closer to the campus of the future that we all desire. … The good news is, after 2021, there won’t be anymore space to build on this campus, so maybe the cranes will go away for a little while,” he said to laughs.

Joking aside, Betz assured those gathered that the Ambulatory Care Complex and other coming buildings will be easily worth the inconvenience of enduring some more construction, so long as the U.’s faculty remains committed to elevating research, education and care side by side.

“These new facilities are only as good as the incredible people here that bring life to them,” he said.

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