UH Ahuja’s $236 Million Expansion is Part of $1.4 Billion Construction Boom

Julie Washington, cleveland.com

When patients walk into University Hospitals’ Ahuja Medical Center Pavilion now under construction in Beachwood Alan Papa hopes the experience will be like walking into a first-class hotel.

“We’re trying to make sure that we have that high touch, calming, service-oriented process that we’ve built at UH Ahuja,” said Papa, chief operating officer for University Hospitals East Market. “What people will notice is, ‘Am I in the hospital? I don’t feel like I’m in a hospital.’ "

Expectations are high for UH Ahuja Phase 2, a $236.1 million project that will expand bed capacity, create hundreds of jobs, make patient access easier and place a focus on wellness, emergency services and expanded operating room access.

This is one of several hospital construction projects that are either recently completed or in the works across the region. The projects, taking collectively, add up to an eye-popping $1.4 billion.

In UH’s case, the project includes a 216,000-square-foot hospital pavilion addition, and a 78,000-square-foot Drusinsky Family Sports Medicine Complex. Construction is already underway in Beachwood. Both buildings will have three floors when they open in 2023.

A new women and babies center, the Steve and Loree Potash Women & Newborn Center, is expected to deliver about 2,400 babies annually. The UH Ahjua Emergency Department will be expanded to become a Level II trauma center accommodate a predicted 20% increase in ER visits; operating room capacity will increase; and the new emergency department will increase capacity and be equipped as a Level II trauma center.

“Our operating rooms at UH Ahuja are pretty much running almost to capacity, so we need growth,” Papa said. “As we bring other services to the campus, there will be an increased need for surgical specialties to get operating room time.”

Construction has already begun, though UH scheduled a formal kickoff its Phase 2 expansion project with a ceremonial groundbreaking on Tuesday.

The Ahuja expansion also allows the health system to prepare for a future that emphasizes outpatient services over hospital stays. When Ahuja opened a decade ago, knee replacement patients routinely spent two or three days in the hospital.

“Now we are doing knee replacements and sending them home that day, so those beds are being filled by patients that have more serious healthcare conditions,” Papa said. “This expansion is really trying to match the needs of the community.”

Hospital building boom

The UH Ahuja project is part of a recent health care building boom across Northeast Ohio.

Cleveland Clinic Hillcrest Hospital in Mayfield Heights recently broke ground for its $15 million Lozick Cancer Pavilion, an addition to its existing cancer center.

The MetroHealth System Glick Center, a gleaming new $946 million 11-floor hospital under construction, is a cornerstone of MetroHealth’s $1 billion Campus Transformation project.

In 2019, Summa Health opened a new patient tower on its Akron Campus, marking the first phase of a $350 million transformation that includes improvements throughout its Barberton campus.

Summa is currently constructing a $77 million behavioral health facility, and recently opened its new Stow-Kent Medical Center.

New facilities allow for greater efficiency in delivering care, Papa said.

“The reason (behind hospital expansions) is not only to improve patient outcomes but also to improve the patient experience,” Papa said. “We need to make sure that we are as efficient as possible. With older buildings and older facilities, you can’t do it as well.”

J.B. Silvers, a professor of health care finance at the Case Western Reserve University Weatherhead School of Management, sees similar reasons for the health care building boom.

“Much of it, like MetroHealth, is replacement of older outdated facilities,” Silvers said in an email. “Others are designed to meet new patient care needs created by advances in technology and knowledge. At the same time, much care has moved out of the hospital, leaving inpatient facilities with more complex and expensive services.

“But none of this,” Silvers continued, “would happen without the greater payments negotiated by hospitals from insurers.”

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