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NORTH LIBERTY — University of Iowa Health Care made fast work after getting long-sought approval last month to build a new hospital campus in North Liberty — moving dirt on the $395 million project almost immediately.
On Thursday, campus, community and state dignitaries made it official — convening under blue skies, adjacent to soggy soil, for the ceremonial groundbreaking of its 469,000-square-foot Forevergreen Road campus.
“We're already digging. As you can see, we don't waste any time,” UI President Barbara Wilson told the crowd. “This was green a couple of weeks ago, and now it's mud. And we're really excited about that.”
The hotly contested project — which the State Health Facilities Council in February denied a certificate of need, following pushback from community health care providers — got the go-ahead Aug. 31 to build on 60 acres of UI land at the corner of Forevergreen Road and Highway 965.
Just days after the council reversed its earlier decision by approving a $230 million hospital portion of the project, UIHC revealed plans for additional academic, research, and clinic space on the campus — bumping its total cost to more than the new $392.7 million Stead Family Children’s Hospital.
A tentative timeline for the North Liberty project has the design process stretching into next summer — even with construction underway. The facility is expected to debut in 2025, accommodating up to 48 inpatient beds, 21 emergency care rooms, 16 operating rooms, two procedure rooms, laboratories and outpatient clinics.
Dr. Brooks Jackson, UI Vice President for medical affairs and dean of the Carver College of Medicine, said during the event the facility will include a 24/7, drive-through pharmacy, a cafeteria and other public amenities.
“We are pleased that this development will also provide much needed decompression on our main medical campus and afford us the opportunity to enhance or expand other services,” Jackson said. “Ultimately, this project will help us recruit and retain world-class physicians, nurses and other health care professionals, as well as a cadre of students and trainees.
“It's no surprise that the very best people prefer to work in the very best facilities, and this medical campus will be exactly that.”
UIHC argued for the need to build in North Liberty by pointing to its congested main campus in Iowa City and the growing number of patient transfer requests that UIHC denies from around the state.
“The new hospital will help us increase the number of inpatient transfers that we can take,” UI President Wilson said, noting UIHC rates among the nation’s highest in transfer requests. "We want to be able to serve the neediest, the most sick out there, and make sure we can bring them into our facility and take care of them and send them home healthy.
"This facility will allow us to do that in greater numbers.“
UIHC plans to cover the project’s steep costs with revenue bonds, designated building usage funds and donations — not taxpayer dollars.
But UIHC dignitaries on Thursday noted the strong support the project has received from the state — with representatives from the Iowa Attorney General’s Office and Board of Regents advocating for the project’s approval before the Health Facilities Council in August.
Six of the nine regents attended Thursday’s groundbreaking, as did Gov. Kim Reynolds, who publicly thanked UIHC and the Board of Regents for “taking on this critical project.”
“It's the entire state that will benefit from the University of Iowa's expanded presence here,” she said. “As our state population grows, and health care needs become more complex, so, too, must UIHC grow to meet those demands.”
Although numerous community and regional health care providers voiced strong opposition to the project — arguing it could drive them out of business and lead to a demise of community health care — Reynolds said, “I'm confident that this new North Liberty campus will strengthen Iowa's health care infrastructure and entice new providers to our great state.”
“High-quality care, top-notch medical training, expanded research opportunities, UIHC has established itself as a leader in each of these critical areas,” she said. “And I have no doubt that this hospital, when completed, will reinforce and strengthen that well-deserved reputation.”
Vanessa Miller covers higher education for The Gazette.
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