New Hospital Tower Rises in Tucson

By Jay Gonzales –

Banner – UMC Tucson Provides State-of-the-Art Healthcare

When a brand new hospital goes up in the 21st century, with all its attendant technology and facilities, the cliché, “all the bells and whistles,” doesn’t really do justice to the project.

At the April opening of the new, nine-story hospital tower at Banner – University Medical Center Tucson, University of Arizona President Dr. Robert C. Robbins was so taken by what he saw, that the cardiothoracic surgeon said he’s hoping his day job can run smoothly enough so that he could have a chance to work in one of the new, state-of-the-art operating rooms. And he didn’t look like he was joking.

“This facility provides the providers and the patients an opportunity to deliver and receive absolute state-of-the-art healthcare,” Robbins said to an audience of several hundred who were invited to a ribbon-cutting and celebration of the opening on April 11. The hospital opened to patients on April 22.

“As we get new provosts and a new senior VP for research and innovation, I’m not going to have much to do,” Robbins said, almost wistfully. “Maybe things will be running a little more smoothly south of Speedway so I can get to hang out over here and have lots of fun.”

Sarah Frost, CEO of Banner – University Medical Center Tucson, considers leading the opening of the new tower a “once-in-a-lifetime” project for an administrator who worked her way through the ranks. She once was a business analyst at Pima County when it operated Kino Community Hospital, now a part of Banner – University Medicine.

Frost is CEO of both Banner – UMC Tucson and Banner – University Medical Center South, the former Kino Hospital.

“To be able to do it here in this amazing community in Tucson, it just warms my heart,” Frost said at the opening. “I’ve been so fortunate to work alongside amazing professionals that have made this happen. And to think it’s been over four years of us doing this and we’re here – it’s an amazing feeling.”

“Here” is a 670,000-square-foot tower that took four years and cost $446 million to build. There is $50 million of state-of-the-art technology. There are 228 private patient rooms, 22 new operating rooms, new diagnostic imaging and cardiac catheterization labs. The hospital still has the only Level 1 trauma unit in the region. The tower replaces older sections of the original hospital building that opened in 1971. This increases capacity from 479 to 649 licensed beds and adds 96 new adult ICU beds.

Aesthetically, its openness and spectacular mountain views give the feel of a hotel or resort whose focus is to be pleasing to the eye while also being functional. The main cafeteria is on the ground floor just off the main entrance, easily accessible for visitors and with a view of the Catalina Mountains.

While it is nine stories now, the building was designed to accommodate two more floors on top. The former entrance on Campbell Avenue has been moved to Elm Street off Campbell. The address is 1625 N. Campbell Ave.

The tower was designed by architects Shepley Bulfinch, engineers AEI and GLHN Architects & Engineers of Tucson. The lead contractor was a joint venture of DPR Construction and Sundt Construction.

“I think it’s beyond what people were imagining,” said Dr. Chad Whelan, an internist who was hired as CEO of Banner – University Medicine last September. “You picture what a building’s going to be like, you picture the technology in it, and when you see it all come together in a place that is really built for healing, it’s unbelievable. I think it’s beyond anyone’s expectations.”

Whelan has opened a new hospital before. He was at the University of Chicago Medical Center when it opened a 10-story, 1.2 million-square-foot hospital in 2013. Whelan came to Tucson after serving as president of Loyola University Medical Center near Chicago.

“That was a great experience. It really was,” Whelan said. “But I’ll tell you, this one feels more special. That was a beautiful, big, high-tech building. This one is all about high tech and high touch. It’s really built for the patients and the family.

“Architecturally, it’s a beautiful building. It’s built with light and healing in mind. But behind the walls and in the operating rooms, there’s no place else that has the level of technology that this place has. This is the most advanced hospital out there.”

With the hospital as the centerpiece of the UA College of Medicine Tucson, Robbins said he expects the college will attract top faculty, students, administrators, doctors and nurses.

“People will want to come to work here,” Robbins said. “This is going to be a place where they’re going to be excited to come to work and perform their craft.”

Ron Shoopman was on the Arizona Board of Regents when the UA and Banner came together in a partnership to operate the medical center in conjunction with the UA College of Medicine.

“We needed a clinical partner that we could count on,” Shoopman said. “We understood our responsibility to be the provider of doctors for the future, not only for Phoenix and Tucson, but for our whole state and beyond. So it was worth the time and effort and the blood, sweat and tears it took to put it together.”

One of the outcomes is the new hospital tower that sits in the center of Tucson to provide state-of-the-art healthcare to everyone in the region.

“We are certainly interested in access and high-quality education at an affordable price,” Shoopman said. “We also care about the future of this state. We’re interested in making sure that the people of Arizona have the kind of healthcare they need.”

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