GROWING UP: Only a few years after moving to Aurora, University Hospital opens second tower with room to expand in coming years


AURORA | With the opening this week of University of Colorado Hospital’s new 12-story inpatient tower, the fast-growing hospital on the Anschutz Medical Campus has something hospitals often lack — room to grow. And more to come.

The new tower, part of a $400-million expansion project, has 734,000 square-feet of space, but just 469,000 square feet is finished. That leaves 265,000 square feet that is partially finished, with windows, exterior walls, electrical, plumbing and heating infrastructure, ready to be finished when officials decide they need more space.

RN Kyle Hammond shuffles through paperwork, June 17 at the University of Colorado Hospital. The new 12-story, 734,00-square-foot inpatient tower is part of a $400-million-expansion project and gives the hospital 144 more patient beds.  (Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)
RN Kyle Hammond shuffles through paperwork, June 17 at the University of Colorado Hospital. The new 12-story, 734,00-square-foot inpatient tower is part of a $400-million-expansion project and gives the hospital 144 more patient beds. (Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)

“In the future — looking 10, 20 years down the road — there needs to be additional facilities for patient care, and you want them all connected as close as possible for efficiency and safety,” John Harney, president and CEO of the hospital said at a June 17 ceremony.

That space, hospital officials say, can be finished as the need arises. Maybe in a few years, the hospital will realize they need a unit dedicated to treating bariatric patients. If that happens, they have four unfinished floors in the new tower ready for the extra-large doorways and other amenities such a unit would require.

Harney said there aren’t many hospitals in the country that can boast that kind of developable space in an already-finished building.

“We are very fortunate to have adequate square footage here on the campus,” he said.

While there is room for the hospital to grow in the new tower, the massive new building is far from empty.

The emergency department opened in April, one full month ahead of schedule. Since then, 36 new beds in the oncology unit, pharmacies and a neuro-intensive care unit have opened, among several others.

The tower also is home to a centralized cardiac unit that brings several cardiac facilities — including rehabilitation, intensive care and outpatient services — under one roof for the first time. Before, those units were located in different locations around the hospital.

The new wing was built with future growth in mind, but officials said it also fills a vital, immediate need. Patient visits have spiked in recent years and put a strain on the 6-year-old main tower.

“This tower not only needed to be built for the long term, we needed it now,” said Lilly Marks, chairwoman of the hospital’s board of directors and executive vice chancellor of the Anschutz campus.

But Marks said making the decision to build the new tower four years ago was a tough one. When hospital officials approached the board in 2009, the market crash of 2008 was fresh on their minds, and there was some concern about launching a massive and expensive project in that climate.

Marks said board members worried, “what if we built it, and they didn’t come?”

But Bruce Schroffel, CEO of University of Colorado Health, said officials knew back in 2009 that if the hospital was going to grow, and continue to build its nationwide reputation, they needed to grow from the roughly 400 beds the hospital had then.

“We looked at the top medical centers and knew 400 beds wouldn’t do it — it couldn’t pay the bills and couldn’t be the best ,” he said.

Now, the hospital has more than 500 beds, and when the new tower is fully complete, it will have about 700 beds.

Since moving in 2007 to Anschutz from the Denver campus near East Ninth Avenue and Colorado Boulevard, UCH has seen rapid growth — growth Harney said has been faster than hospital leaders expected.

Today, the hospital is seen by many patients in Colorado and around the country as a “destination” for health care, Harney said.

That new identity has been built in large part because of the partnerships between the various institutions at Anschutz, including the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Children’s Hospital Colorado, he said. The various institutions feed off of each other, he said, and being close to the others helps build each individual facility’s reputation.

“You put all of that together, and on one footprint you have an incredible ability to create innovation in the future,” he said.

Schroffel also credited the partnerships with the other residents of Anschutz for helping the hospital grow.

“Absent the school of medicine and the academic enterprise, we would not be what we are,” he said. “We would be another big hospital somewhere. That is a critical piece of our genetics.”

And, even with the new tower open, and with all that space, Schroffel said growth will continue at the campus into the future.

“We are never quite where we want to be,” he said. “We have got a ways to go.”