Regents fast to OK development of recent College of Iowa hospital in North Liberty

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A rendering shows the front of a planned University of Iowa health facility to be built in North Liberty. (Courtesy Iowa Board of Regents)

With little debate but a lot of praise for the project – which struggled to get the go-ahead from a state health care facility body – the Iowa Board of Directors unanimously approved the construction of a $ 395 million university hospital and clinic site on Tuesday of Iowa in North Liberty begins later this month.

“We’re doing this for the people of the state of Iowa,” said President-in-Office Mike Richards during the brief special session days after the State Health Facilities Council issued a $ 230 million health care need certificate. The entire project was convened.

“I think this should be remembered,” said Richards, who spoke last week during a nine-hour meeting of the panel in defense of the project where the bot heard organized opposition and support. “It will be a very nice part of our facility. But here too we take care of people from all walks of life in the state. And that will be your hospital. “

While the UIHC had the discussion focused on the $ 230 million health facility that needed state approval, board documents released Friday outlined the entire 469,000 square foot perimeter of the project on the corner of Forevergreen Road and Highway 965.

An area of ​​300,000 square meters offers up to 48 beds, 21 emergency rooms, 16 operating theaters and two further treatment rooms as well as laboratories, a pharmacy and other amenities. Community health care providers – including Mercy Iowa City, Mercy Medical Center at Cedar Rapids, and UnityPoint Health – unsuccessfully turned down the new hospital, arguing that it was too expensive and would drive them out of business.

With the addition of an additional $ 165 million for an attached 169,000-square-foot “Academic and Clinical Building,” which will house outpatient departments, faculty offices, and educational, collaborative and research rooms, the project will cost the Stead $ 392.7 million UIHC Family Children’s Hospital.

This project – which partially opened in 2017 – has been plagued by cost overruns, delays and mismanagement, according to a Gazette investigation. These issues led to the only regent question on Tuesday before the board unanimously approved the North Liberty deal.

Regent Nancy Boettger asked if the plan to use a “site manager in danger” method will help UIHC “avoid the problems we had with the children’s hospital construction site?”

“There are several strategies we have used with respect to this project to mitigate some of the risks associated with teething problems,” said Suresh Gunasekaran, chief executive officer of UIHC, told the regents. “One such role is Site Manager Risk, where an outside party is responsible for the overall scope of the project and managing all of its components.”

For the 14-story children’s hospital, UIHC took the risk and responsibility of acquiring contractors and creating a final project that was on time and on budget.

In addition to appointing Des Moines’ JE Dunn as site manager at risk, Gunasekaran said, UIHC also allowed JE Dunn to get involved in the design process and help develop a budget.

“They were able to fine-tune the scope and approach,” he said, adding that UIHC also worked with the main campus facility managers on the project. “That is also a little different than last time.”

Rod Lehnertz, UI’s senior vice president of finance and operations, endorsed the idea, saying that North Liberty construction will be less complex because it will take place on a “green field”.

“The children’s hospital was built in a very tight urban area on the main campus,” he said, although this new project involves the complex construction of a “central supply facility” dedicated only to the UIHC North Liberty campus.

The construction of the utility is included in the total cost of the project, according to UIHC officials. And although UIHC expects to operate it, officials said they are considering Engie – the main campus’ new utility company under a private-public partnership – “as an option.”

The new location will not include a parking ramp, but will have around 1,100 patient, visitor and staff spaces, officials said.

UIHC had to postpone its original construction schedule after the state’s five-member health care council narrowly rejected its first application in February after widespread outcry from community health care providers.

In order to be able to better describe the need for expansion and the services to be provided by it, the university submitted an application again in a letter lasting a few months, which ultimately earned it approval.

UI President Barbara Wilson – who is new to campus and started doing it this summer – attended Tuesday’s meeting by praising the board of directors and UIHC officials who invested hours in getting that approval.

“We are currently rejecting too many transfer patients,” said Wilson. “We have a lot, a lot to do to ensure the health and safety of our people across the state. This will enable us to expand our very high level of care for very sick patients. “

The UIHC said in its regent proposal that it plans to cover the price of North Liberty with bonds from hospital receipts, gifts and UIHC building use funds. According to spokeswoman Laura Shoemaker, UIHC has not yet received any gifts or commitments for this project.

“There is a philanthropic interest, but so far no donations have been made for this project,” she said. “We have a general gift fund that we can tap for any capital project.”

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