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UCI Plots $1B Health Hub

The University of California, Irvine last week received the green light for a long-awaited medical center on the north side of its Irvine campus.

The $1 billion complex—approved by the University of California Board of Regents—will sit on land the school owns at the corner of Jamboree Road and Birch Street, not far from the Irvine and Newport Beach city lines.

The campus has been named the UCI Medical Center Irvine-Newport.

An acute care hospital with emergency and surgery departments and an ambulatory care center will join the previously announced $221 million UCI Health Center for Advanced Care, the latter of which is expected to open late next year.

All facilities, spanning about 800,000 square feet combined, are expected to receive patients in 2025.

The medical center will introduce specialty services to the region to “fulfill a need that was envisioned decades ago,” Chad Lefteris, chief executive of UCI Health, told the Business Journal last week.

The center will also work closely with the UCI academic center to bring cutting-edge research and medical advancements into clinical practice, said Steve Goldstein, vice chancellor of health affairs at UCI.

“World-class care is going to happen now at one proximate site,” Goldstein said.

“Once this project is completed, the UCI healthcare system will be unparalleled in this region,” said UCI Chancellor Howard Gillman.

UCI Health will have “two advanced medical centers, nationally recognized research units conducting hundreds of clinical trials, and a network of community locations stretching to all corners of Orange County,” Gillman said.

Pandemic Pull

Approval of the project—to be financed via philanthropic donations, retained earnings and revenue from UCI Health operations—comes as the county grapples with a surge in COVID-19 patients.

Orange-based UCI Medical Center, which includes the 418-bed UCI Health Douglas Hospital, is one of three hospitals in OC that has set up a field hospital to deal with an onslaught of patients.

Moving ahead with a new medical center amidst a pandemic “makes it clear just what an academic health system does for its community,” Goldstein said.

“It teaches, it brings everyone else along, and it provides care in a way that no one else can.”

The project is expected to add about 2,500 healthcare and construction jobs combined, officials said.

The timing of the project also presents a unique opportunity to leverage lessons learned from the current pandemic, and incorporate them into the new complex, Lefteris said.

For example, all inpatient rooms will have the ability to accommodate ICU-level care. Technology that facilitates home-based care and access to outdoor spaces will also be prioritized.

Specialty Services

The seven-story, 144-bed acute care hospital will focus on oncology, orthopedics, neurosciences, spine and digestive health.

“Internal and third-party data tells us these key service areas have the biggest need,” Lefteris said, noting UCI paid special attention to services that patients often seek outside of OC.

Likewise, the five-story ambulatory care center is expected to complement the specialty hospital with outpatient surgery, cancer clinics and infusion centers, advanced imaging and public-facing amenities such as a retail pharmacy.

A parking lot will divide the hospital and ambulatory center—connected via an underground level for streamlined operations—and the Center for Advanced Care.

The Center for Advanced Care will house primary and secondary care services, as well as a Center for Children’s Health and an urgent care facility.

Unique Features

Other components of the campus will include:

• Inpatient rooms and various outpatient areas—such as cancer infusion sites—that provide patients with scenic views of the adjacent San Joaquin Marsh Reserve. These intentional design choices will make the complex a “much warmer, inviting space in a sterile environment,” Lefteris said.

• An arts initiative that is expected to speed patient recovery through a technique that Lefteris referred to as “positive distraction.”

• LEED Platinum (for outpatient) and LEED Gold (for hospital) certifications from the U.S. Green Building Council. “Inpatient facilities are not sustainable—we use a lot of energy, a lot of water. Typically, these plants are full of fossil fuels, but we will have the first all-electric power plant among the UCs,” Lefteris said.

Research to Practice

The medical center is part of a nearly $1.5 billion commitment to academic and clinical health practices by UCI.

The university is currently building its College of Health Sciences, a 9-acre, two-building campus a few miles away that will house the schools of medicine, nursing, pharmacy and public health.

That $185 million project is expected to encourage an integrative and team-based approach to clinical research and practice—a newer approach to healthcare that UCI continues to champion.

One example of the power of an academic health system: In December, UCI Health researchers announced that they had created a machine-learning model that can predict the probability that a COVID-19 patient will need a ventilator or ICU care.

“That’s the sort of cutting-edge work that is baked into giving patients the best possible care.”

LBJ Ties

A collection of healing gardens, walking trails and a research preserve within the San Joaquin Marsh Reserve will surround UCI Medical Center Irvine-Newport.

The 202-acre cluster of land is being recognized as the UCI Presidential Gateway in memory of former President Lyndon B. Johnson, who visited UCI for its official dedication ceremony on June 20, 1964.

Johnson is credited with advancing health programs through the federal government, and he signed Medicare into law in 1965.

“Remembering the history of Lyndon B. Johnson and all that he did to bring healthcare to this country, it feels very appropriate, as we’re reaching out to the community with this gem,” Goldstein said.

The name is also fitting, he said, in that it recognizes UCI as a gateway—“honoring the past and connecting to the future.”

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