Making room: Major expansions at Presbyterian, UNMH well under way - Albuquerque Journal

Making room: Major expansions at Presbyterian, UNMH well under way

The 11-story, $170 million new tower at Presbyterian Hospital is on track and expected to be open by next winter. A pair of new hospital expansions are expected to add around 250 hospital rooms in central Albuquerque. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

A pair of New Mexico’s largest hospitals are making headway on massive construction projects, which are expected to add a total of around 250 new hospital rooms in central Albuquerque.

The cement frame of Presbyterian’s new $170 million, 11-story tower is mostly in place, and the tower remains on track to open by next winter, according to Dionne Cruz Miller, hospital chief executive for Presbyterian Healthcare Services. Once the tower and subsequent remodels to existing rooms are complete, Cruz Miller said the hospital will have more than 600 rooms, an uptick of around 25% over its current available space.

“When we see the growth in demand for health care, this provides that capacity,” Cruz Miller said.

About a mile northeast, University of New Mexico Hospital is preparing to break ground on a tower of its own. Mike Chicarelli, chief operating officer at UNMH, said the new building will add 96 inpatient beds and 18 operating rooms, allowing the hospital to consolidate and streamline its critical care operations in one building.

“Having the ability to unload your patient from the helicopter and take them directly down to the emergency department in an elevator that’s designed specifically for that is incredibly efficient, and it’s good for patient care,” Chicarelli said.

Chicarelli said the new UNMH facility will be ready to serve its first patients in October 2024, and will free up the hospital’s existing critical care space for a yet-to-be-determined purpose.

Both administrators are optimistic that the expansions will help the hospitals better meet the growing demand for hospital space. A study produced by the Mid-Region Council of Governments notes that central New Mexico is expected to add 194,000 new residents by 2040. That growth, combined with an aging population, likely means a substantial uptick in hospital visits. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has stressed hospitals at points over the last year and a half, forcing them to add temporary wards and divert resources to meet patients’ needs.

“We want to be able to provide care to New Mexicans in New Mexico,” Chicarelli said. “We know, based on our historical capacity, that somewhat is a challenge, because we are full a lot of the time.”

Cruz Miller added that the pandemic prompted the hospital to make a few changes to its design. The new tower will incorporate more natural light, with dedicated open spaces for medical staff to spend time together safely and recover from a challenging shift.

“People were so isolated during COVID, so fearful in terms of not wanting to congregate,” she said. “So we created these spaces where you’re still able to congregate in natural settings.”

None of the new patient rooms in Presbyterian’s new facility will be shared, and Cruz Miller said the privacy will help caregivers communicate with patients more effectively.

“So when you’re having those really crucial conversations, you’re not in a shared space,” she said.

Both hospital projects also include expanded parking capacity. A new parking garage on Presbyterian’s campus is slated to open next month, and will result in a net increase of around 800 spaces. The first phase of UNMH’s expansion – a power station and parking garage with around 1,400 spots – is underway and slated to be complete by the third quarter of 2022. The new parking replaces the hospital’s existing structure, which sat where the new tower will be built and needed to be replaced, Chicarelli said.


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