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Design of UCSD’s Cardio Center Includes Full-Scale Models to Save Time, Money

Plans for the Sulpizio Family Cardiovascular Center at UC San Diego call for a 128,000-square-foot, $171 million “complement” to the existing Thornton Hospital.

But, more than that, the center will provide state-of-the-art education and research facilities exclusive to the region, said Dr. Tony DeMaria, who will direct the center. He said the completed project will unify the UCSD Medical Center’s cardiovascular ambulatory, clinical and inpatient care under one roof for the first time.

“It’s absolutely unique to San Diego,” DeMaria said. He added that although there are similar educational institutions across the United States, such as an under-construction center at the University of Michigan, that house these three cardiovascular services in one location, this will be the first in San Diego.

The four-story structure will be built adjacent to Thornton Hospital, a 119-bed general medical-surgical hospital on the campus, and “is designed to complement but not expand (the hospital),” said Randy Leopold, the university’s principal architect for the project. “It will have a separate physical identity, although with similar materials.”

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Leopold previously worked on hospital upgrades and renovations for UCSD Medical Center’s Hillcrest and Thornton hospitals that range from projects costing several hundred thousand dollars to $20 million.


A Decade Of Work

Though groundbreaking is scheduled for Sept. 27 and construction is set to start in May, the project has been in the works for 10 years. Hospital officials expect to receive the center’s first patient in late 2010.

“The groundbreaking is the culmination of a vision of over a decade ago,” DeMaria said. “It’s wonderful for the patient with it all under one roof. It’s wonderful for education, for those individuals willing to study almost every aspect of cardiovascular disease.”

As part of the planning and to reduce construction costs, designers from the university leased space in Clairemont Mesa to build mock-ups, or full-scale prototypes, of an intensive care room, exam room, day room (a private room for patients in need of a hospital stay for less than 24 hours) and echocardiogram room (a private room for patients to undergo cardiac ultrasounds). The mock-ups will most likely remain in use until construction begins next year, Leopold said.

The finished center will feature 24 intensive care and intermediate care rooms, 22 day rooms, 18 emergency department exam rooms, 21 clinic exams rooms and seven echocardiogram rooms, Leopold said.

It will also have four cardiac-catheterization labs, four cardiac-sized operating rooms, imaging labs and research facilities, said Jackie Carr, communications officer for UCSD Medical Center.


Vital Input

In the past several months, doctors and nurses affiliated with the center visited the mock rooms, offering feedback on everything from lighting to the color schematic to the type of door proposed for the ICU rooms.

Leopold said without modifications made to the mocked up rooms, the cost of construction would have been as much as 10 times more. He said that using the mock rooms will help keep the project on target because there will be fewer changes made during construction.

“We visited hospitals across the country,” said Leopold, who has worked on the project for four years. “We wanted it to be functional.”

It is the first time that UCSD Medical Center has used mock rooms before building a structure, said Leopold, though he said it is common for industries ranging from health care to hotels to use mock-ups.

The 2,000-square-foot commercial space was leased for 18 months for approximately $2,000 a month and features four full-scale rooms that are detailed down to the bathroom tile and curtain material.

As of mid-September, the faux rooms were in their third generation. Fifty to 60 physicians, nurses and staff members have toured the mock rooms multiple times, offering input for the design team to make necessary changes to each room, according to Leopold.

The flooring , a rubber material that was comfortable for workers who stand for long periods of time , was scrapped because it was hard to clean. Plans for patient headwalls were changed when medical staff realized that plugs for medical equipment would not all fit into the panel.

In the day rooms, a wall with a high window was replaced with a window to create space in an otherwise small room. The designers installed five different types of doors in the mock rooms to find the best one.


Saving Time, Money

For the exam rooms, they discovered that the doors weren’t wide enough for hospital beds to pass through, an oversight that would have delayed the project and added more costs. Another set of doors was scrapped because the housekeeping staff thought they would be too time-consuming to clean.

“He (Leopold) has told me that thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars have been saved,” DeMaria said. “We probably would have to change all the doors.”

Although Leopold said it is difficult to estimate the cost difference, he added that it would have been “significant in direct cost and schedule (and) delays.”

In addition, Leopold said the project saved a year because the design team , led by RTKL Associates Inc. in Los Angeles , brought on the builder, DPR Construction’s local office, early in the project. The general contractor’s headquarters are in Redwood City.

“It saved months, if not a year, of time,” he said. “Although, it was much more complicated (coordinating between the design staff and builder).”

The center is expected to employ a medical staff of 300, including a university-based fellowship program in clinical cardiology and cardiovascular research, said Carr. The hospital is being funded by hospital reserves, debt financing and philanthropy; a $10 million donation from Richard and Maria Sulpizio was awarded to the center in 2005 as a naming gift, she added.

Until the center is completed, the hospital’s cardiovascular services have been scattered throughout San Diego. Patients will able to undergo tests, meet with dietitians and receive results at the same place.

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