IOWA CITY — Weeks after the new $360 million University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital made its public debut to tens of thousands of sightseers, officials announced Wednesday that its planned Dec. 10 opening will be pushed back to January or February because construction isn’t done yet.
Iowa Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter said he learned of the delay a night earlier when UI President Bruce Harreld called.
“I think the challenge was with labor and around the holidays — particularly the week of Thanksgiving — and getting all those contractors back. It was a close timetable anyway.”
UI Health Care spokesman Tom Moore said the administration is working with project manager Gilbane Building Co. to “more fully understand the reasons for the delay” on the 14-story, 507,000-square-foot facility that crews began constructing in 2012.
“This is a four-year, highly complex project with many moving parts, and it’s not unusual for delays to occur,” he said in an email. “Despite everyone’s best efforts, some construction activities remain incomplete.”
Specifically, he said, work remains undone on acute care patient floors 9, 10 and 11 and on some lower levels. The undone construction was affecting other aspects of the transition — like staff training and device integration, Moore said.
“By taking this approach we can ensure the best possible environment for everyone who will receive care or those who will work in the new facility,” he said.
A spokesman for Gilbane did not return messages Wednesday afternoon for comment,
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In the administration’s message, officials said “the safety and comfort of our patients, their families, and our employees is our top priority — which is why we have decided to postpone the move-in and opening.”
The message was attributed to Jean Robillard, vice president for medical affairs of UI Health Care; Ken Kates, chief executive of UI Hospitals and Clinics; and Scott Turner, executive director of the Children’s Hospital. They credited construction crews for their “around the clock” work and praised staff who have been involved in planning the opening.
Wednesday’s announcement comes nearly four weeks after an open house for the long-awaited hospital welcomed thousands of visitors. Over several days, guests — including faculty, staff, students, community members and patients — toured three mostly-completed floors and the main lobby, where Hawkeye cheerleaders performed, Herky posed for photos, families grabbed snacks and beverages and children participated in games and activities.
The following week, on Nov. 11, the university held an official dedication ceremony attended by patients, families, employees, lawmakers, UI administrators and donors — including the hospital’s namesake.
Jerre and Mary Joy Stead have committed $25 million to UI children’s medicine, and the university honored that giving both in the naming of its Stead Family Department of Pediatrics in 2013 and in the naming of its children’s hospital.
The dedication marked the official name change of the hospital, which got its start in 1919 and last year cared for 67,239 patients from every county in Iowa, nearly every state in the nation and several other countries. It has more than 170 pediatric physicians and surgeons and more than 500 specially-trained pediatric nurses.
Turner said in September UI Health Care is recruiting 229 new full-time staff members for the new hospital — more than 140 of whom had been hired or were in the process of being hired.
That total includes mostly housekeeping and food and nutrition workers, but doesn’t include another 50 pediatric physicians added over the past four years.
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During the open house, Turner said the project’s timeline and budget were on track. He said the 134 patient beds in the new hospital — most of which are to be in single rooms — along with 49 for neonatal patients on the main health care campus would be ready to go Dec. 10.
Regent Larry McKibben, vice chairman of the UI Hospitals and Clinics Committee, said UI Health Care executives recently notified him about potential delays — something that didn’t surprise him after touring portions of the facility a few weeks ago.
“I talked to them, and they were certainly open about it,” he said. “And my simple response was this: You only get one chance to do something right. And this is such an important project to us that doing it right is better than doing it quickly.”
McKibben said university officials had considered opening just parts of the new hospital on time.
“But I got the feeling in my visit with them that probably it was going to be a total opening rather than a piecemeal opening,” he said. “I personally would prefer a whole opening.”
UI officials said they are not planning to seek additional money for the project from regents.
At the outset, regents in 2012 approved a $292 million budget for the project. They agreed to increase that by $70 million in September 2015 after officials said they were competing for skilled labor and wanted to get the hospital open by the end of 2016.
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