University of Iowa hospitals eyes new complex, emergency room in North Liberty

Details emerge for facility to be built on Forevergreen Road land

Traffic passes a sign announcing the upcoming University of Iowa Health Care Services campus on Forevergreen Road in Nor
Traffic passes a sign announcing the upcoming University of Iowa Health Care Services campus on Forevergreen Road in North Liberty. The Iowa Board of Regents on Wednesday approved initial plans for a 300,000-square-foot building on the nearly 60-acre site. It will relieve crowding on the hospital’s main campus in Iowa City and offer a “level 4 emergency treatment center,” urgent care services, outpatient clinics, diagnostic services, surgical suites and acute inpatient beds. (The Gazette)

URBANDALE — After promising for years that a University of Iowa Health Care facility would be “coming soon” to the North Liberty corner of Forevergreen Road and Highway 965, the hospital has unveiled plans to build a new “health care complex” there that would, among other things, add more emergency services.

The initial 300,000-square-foot building proposed for the first phase of development on the nearly 60-acre site in North Liberty would include a “level 4 emergency treatment center,” urgent care services, outpatient clinics, diagnostic services, surgical suites and acute inpatient beds.

A proposal that on Wednesday went before the Board of Regents notes the development is aimed at improving patient access and easing congestion at the packed main campus.

In a separate report Wednesday, UIHC CEO Suresh Gunasekaran told regents that soaring census numbers in his hospital — with a midnight occupancy at 97 percent — are stressing the emergency department, inpatient units, clinics and surgical needs.

Transfers from other hospitals are being rejected, he said. Emergency room wait times and lengths of stay are growing. Prospective patients are struggling to secure timely appointments.

In evaluating potential solutions, Gunasekaran said, “I think we need a different setting of care, other than this campus that’s right next to Kinnick.”

“This campus that’s right next to Kinnick is awesome for one thing — every medical specialty known to man is housed here, in one set of buildings,” he said. “But the inconvenience of this campus is well known as well … the parking, the access, the ability to walk in and the ability to walk out — it’s difficult.


“So we’re asking ourselves — do we have another campus in which we could have care that doesn’t require every single doctor to be under one roof?” Gunasekaran said. “That’s the analysis of what’s driving the planning for North Liberty.”


The hospital is characterizing the proposal as a revision of an original plan, approved by regents in 2016, to expand on its Iowa River Landing site in Coralville.

That project focused on the university’s “nationally recognized orthopedic research, education, and clinical operations” and moving them away from the UIHC main complex.

“Orthopedic services were experiencing significant growth and were located in geographically disparate and outmoded facilities, which were overcrowded and difficult to access for mobility-challenged patients,” according to regent documents.

As space in and around the Coralville clinic also became increasingly cramped, Gunasekaran said, the university put on hold its plans to expand there and reviewed its options — resulting in the recommendation for expansion in North Liberty, where “orthopedics is still a component.”

Hospital administrators haven’t released cost estimates for the proposed development but reported plans to cover it with a combination of hospital revenue bonds, building usage funds and gifts.

And although UIHC right now only wants permission for one multiuse facility on the North Liberty land — newly accessible via a just-opened exit off Interstate-380 — officials reported they’ll likely come back to the board “for additional phases associated with full development of this site.”

Land purchase

The university bought its first chunk of land at the North Liberty intersection in late 2010 for $11.7 million, using UIHC earnings “set aside for capital improvements,” according to regent documents. At that time, the property was pitched as a “key location at a significant intersection at the boundary between Coralville and North Liberty, two of the fastest growing communities in Iowa, with significant vehicle traffic and visibility.”

In November, the board agreed to let the university buy an abutting nearly 22 acres for $2.2 million of “temporary investment income.”

The initial proposal approved Wednesday by the regents is pitched as advancing the hospital’s “tripartite mission, affording space to integrate teaching and research with the clinical services.”


“This co-location would accelerate medical progress and leverage the close collaboration between the university’s outstanding clinicians and researchers for the benefit of our patients and students,” according to board documents.

In addition to shelled-in space for future growth, patient and staff parking would be provided on surface lots, Gunasekaran said.

The university also requested and received permission to skirt the traditional design-professional selection process so it can continue working with Neumann Monson Architects, of Iowa City, chosen in 2016 for the proposed Iowa River Landing expansion.

“The extensive time and effort needed to execute a new selection process would not be cost effective for all parties, nor would the process likely yield a more beneficial outcome,” according to board documents.


UIHC executives on Wednesday also shared with regents details of its recent collaboration with a national health care enterprise on a new 40-bed rehabilitation inpatient hospital in nearby Coralville.

Alabama-based Encompass Health is building the facility on the southwest corner of Oakdale Boulevard and Coral Court — a mile south of UIHC’s Forevergreen Road facility.

The facility — to be called the University of Iowa Health Network Rehabilitation Hospital — is on track to open in June and serve patients recovering from a range of illnesses and injuries, like strokes, neurological disorders, brain trauma, spinal cord issues, amputations and other complex orthopedic conditions.

Although Encompass more than a year ago announced plans to build its first inpatient hospital in Iowa — without collaboration or coordination from UIHC — the two entities since joined forces, with UIHC faculty agreeing to staff the facility.

The two parties will split the $27 million capital expense 50-50, according to UIHC Chief Financial Officer Bradley Haws. And the official UIHC entity partnering with Encompass on the project is UI Health System — a nonprofit created to support UIHC’s clinical, academic and research programs.


“The reason we’re partnering with Encompass is we’re going to provide the physicians for that rehab hospital so we know the Iowa Rehab Hospital, which is our partner, will be sophisticated enough to take our patients,” he said.


Adding to the expanding health care options in Johnson County is another new 40-bed inpatient rehabilitation facility being built in Coralville via collaboration between Mercy Iowa City and Kindred Healthcare, of Louisville, Ky. The $7.5 million project next to Mercy Coral West at 2769 Heartland Dr. is scheduled to open this summer.

The State Health Facilities Council in 2018 approved certificates of need for both that project and the Encompass project for what appeared to be the same thing.

UIHC CEO Gunasekaran told The Gazette he agrees there are enough patients to fill up both.

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