With an air of luxury and a high-tech vibe to its rooms and furnishings, the new University Medical Center is preparing to open in Mid-City.
The hospital will provide a permanent replacement for the city’s Charity Hospital, a few blocks away on Tulane Avenue, which never reopened after Hurricane Katrina.
Its planned opening Aug. 1 will mark another milestone in the city’s recovery, and officials hope it will spur New Orleans’ growth as a regional health care powerhouse.
“We’re focused on enhancing the reputation of the city. We’re not just about food and festivals, but for your health care as well,” University Medical Center CEO Cindy Nuesslein said Wednesday.
The focus of the 2.3 million-square-foot medical center will be threefold: care for patients, including the poor and uninsured who have traditionally been able to seek care through the state’s charity hospital system; training for LSU and Tulane University medical students; and research into new treatments.
The coming six weeks will see training and final preparations of the building. That will be followed by a massive move as patients are transferred to the new facility from the Interim LSU Hospital.
The nine specialty clinics that fall under the hospital’s umbrella will be moved to the new building after that.
The hospital’s construction has taken about 43 months, with roughly 12,000 people involved.
The building bears little resemblance to the sterile environment usually associated with hospitals, and even less to the outdated and dingy accommodations at the health care center’s interim location.
Furniture seemingly selected from a catalog for upscale hotels sits in waiting areas broken by dividers for privacy, while windows look out on courtyards with fountains. Other water features are surrounded by plants and overlooked by balconies.
Thousands of pieces of art and sculpture are scattered throughout the campus, including a large, hanging, stained-glass map of the city — marked with the locations of the hospital’s predecessors — that dominates the lobby.
Representations of the art deco grillwork on the old Charity Hospital building stand at the entrance to the wings, and a reproduction of the seal set into the floor of the old hospital — which could not be removed because of its historical significance — sits in front of the main doors.
The walls are painted in soft, stylish tones, color-coordinated in purple, green and — somewhat inexplicably in New Orleans — orange to separate the three towers that house the 446 beds for patients, almost all of them in private rooms.
The flourishes are more than just niceties, officials said.
“If you have a good healing environment, you’re going to improve patient outcomes,” said Scott Landry, senior vice president of facilities and support services for LCMC Health, which will manage the hospital.
In addition, they’ll present a welcoming face as the hospital tries to recruit doctors and researchers. “We’re going to attract the best and train the best,” Landry said.
About 2,000 people will work at the hospital when it opens, and the staff is expected to grow over time, LCMC President and CEO Greg Feirn said.
The hospital houses a 40-bed intensive-care unit and an emergency department with 56 rooms split into four segments, each of which could hold the entire emergency room at the Interim LSU Hospital.
There are five rooms for patients who need intensive trauma care, crucial in the area’s only Level 1 trauma center, and an increase from the single trauma room — sometimes divided in half — now available to doctors at the interim location.
Surgeons will be able to move patients from those rooms to one of the hospital’s 19 full operating rooms in less than 10 minutes, officials said.
Concerns about hurricanes and flooding are built into the hospital’s design. All patient rooms and essential services, including the emergency department, are located on the second floor, 22 feet above base flood elevation and accessible by a ramp from the parking garage should the surrounding area take on water. The windows lining the exterior can sustain a blow from a wooden 2-by-4 flung at 200 mph.
In an emergency, the hospital can be self-sustaining for a week, powered by generators and with food and supplies for staff and patients.
The new University Medical Center was built with a combination of $641.7 million from FEMA for the abandoned Charity Hospital building, $278.5 million from the state and $143 million from LCMC. The total includes all new equipment.
Charity, one of the largest hospitals in the country when it was built in 1938, had been one of the major health care centers in New Orleans for almost 70 years when it was flooded and damaged during Katrina.
Rather than reopen the hospital, officials moved its services to temporary housing on Perdido Street while proceeding with plans to demolish numerous city blocks near South Claiborne Avenue and Canal Street to make way for a new hospital complex that will include both the replacement for Charity and a new Veterans Affairs Medical Center. The VA hospital is expected to be completed later this year.
The new hospital was originally supposed to be operated by LSU but was leased to LCMC in 2012 as part of a privatization of the statewide charity system.
Budget woes this year cast the future of that partnership in doubt, with the state’s initial spending plans for the next fiscal year providing tens of millions of dollars less than LCMC officials said they would need to open the hospital. Full funding was restored in the final version of the budget passed by the Legislature last week.
Although the former Charity site was once considered as the site of a new City Hall, the state is now seeking proposals to redevelop it into one of a range of uses, including biomedical, government facilities or housing. Proposals are due by July 1.
Editor’s note: This story has been changed to correct an error in the amount different agencies and groups paid to build the new University Medical Center. LCMC put $143 million toward the total cost of the project. The word “million” was left out of an earlier version of this story.
Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.