UK trustees to be asked to approve next step in hospital tower's completion

mmeehan1@herald-leader.comJune 9, 2014 

UK hospital and Kentucky Children's Hospital on the University of Kentucky campus in Lexington, Ky., on Sept. 11, 2012.

PABLO ALCALA — Herald-Leader Buy Photo

  • What does $150 million get you?

    $14 million: Replace hospital kitchen

    $66.6 million: Outfit two floors to care for 128 patients

    $1 million: Replace and relocate a hyperbaric chamber

    $5.3 million: Relocate and replace MRI machines

    $42 million: Expand and relocate neonatal intensive care unit

    $6.6 million: 9 elevators

    $5.4 million: Central chiller plant addition

    $9 million: Contingency plan for elements not yet designed

During the next phase of a $763 million hospital construction project, UKHealthCare will spend $150 million if the University of Kentucky Board of Trustees approves the proposal Tuesday.

Nearly half of the money will be spent to equip two more floors of the 12-story tower that opened in 2011.

Half of the 12 floors are essentially shells. According to UK, equipping the six empty floors to provide patient care ultimately will cost $257 million, bringing the project's overall cost — including construction and equipment — to $1 billion.

During a daylong retreat Monday, top administrators briefed the board of trustees' subcommittee responsible for health care and the hospital. The subcommittee unanimously approved the $150 million plan with no discussion.

Dr. Michael Karpf, executive vice president for health affairs, didn't offer a time frame for when the two additional floors would be ready or the entire $1 billion project would be completed. He has said previously that the tower might not be finished until 2020 or 2021.

He said that even when the project is completed, UK probably will continue to struggle to handle all of the patients seeking its services. Even if UK reaches the maximum number of 822 beds for which it is licensed by the state, that might not be enough, Karpf said.

Karpf and other administrators painted a picture of patients flocking to UK because of high quality and advanced medical treatment. Sick people who need complex care represent only 5 percent of the total number of patients but are the "sweet spot" financially for UK, Karpf said. Each very sick patient — those who need highly complicated care such as trauma surgeries or transplants — provides the hospital with an average of $80,000 in revenue.

Colleen Swartz, chief nurse executive, said the demand for care had resulted in a bottleneck in the emergency department. Each morning, UK averages 55 patients in "transitional locations" because there are no beds available in the most appropriate specialized units in the hospital, it said.

Some of those patients arrived at the ER and were admitted to the hospital but must wait until a bed is clear. The resulting crowding in the ER has pushed beds into the hallway. For example, during a June 1 tour of the hospital, Dr. Bernard Boulanger said there were 27 patients in beds in the ER hallways.

Swartz also announced that the Markey Cancer Center eventually would move into the tower. There is no time line for that move.

Karpf also said there was a desperate need for clinical research space, and the next phase of construction would address that problem.

During the 2014 General Assembly, UK asked the state to fund most of that $144 million project without success. UK spokesman Jay Blanton said at the time that state bonds would provide about $100 million and UK would find the rest.

Mary Meehan: (859) 231-3261. Twitter: @bgmoms.

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