University Hospital Plans for Expansion

Officials from University Health System and UT Health San Antonio plan to build a $390 million Women & Children’s Inpatient Tower next to an existing tower on the South Texas Medical Center campus.

With the added space, UHS would increase the number of patients served and consolidate services for women and children that are now spread out at various buildings. It will do it all without raising taxes, officials said.

The facility will meet the demand of a growing metropolis while it addresses a long-standing problem — attracting and retaining highly trained children’s specialists in a city that has struggled to build a top-flight, freestanding children’s hospital, officials said.

The new tower “will enable us to attract pediatric subspecialists and make sure that we retain these folks, so they don’t leave after they complete their fellowships,” said UHS spokeswoman Leni Kirkman.

Speaking to the Express-News Editorial Board, George B. Hernandez Jr., president and CEO of UHS, said the tower could open in 2022, pending approval of Commissioners Court, which is expected by early August.

“We didn’t really have the funds and the bandwidth to do this (before), but now is the right time,” Hernandez said. “This won’t be a freestanding children’s hospital, but it’s going to be a game-changer.”

To pay for the new tower, to be built on top of the hospital’s original parking garage, UHS will use $82 million of its cash reserves and $308 million in certificates of obligation, a form of debt that governments use, without voter approval, for certain projects.

The facility will house 250 inpatient rooms for women and children, along with labor and delivery and women’s operating rooms. It will include an existing and expanded Level IV neonatal intensive care unit, as well as a dedicated pediatric emergency department.

The project also includes a new outpatient heart and vascular center, along with advanced endoscopy services, in 43,000 square feet of what had been deliberately unused space in the adjoining Sky Tower, which opened in 2014.

County Judge Nelson Wolff said the growing population of San Antonio, as well as zooming growth in adjacent counties, means the time is ripe for the new tower.

“And we have confidence that the hospital district has the ability to do this job,” he said.

Presently, the hospital’s women’s inpatient facilities are housed in an almost-50-year-old building, with substandard amenities for patients and families, Hernandez said. The present neonatal care is overcrowded; inpatient children’s rooms are housed on the adult floor of the Sky Tower.

“We’ve outgrown the (women’s) building, and this will allow us to serve patients even better,” said Dr. Kristen Plastino, professor of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at UT Health and president of the medical and dental staff at UHS.

The consolidation will open up 72 adult beds currently used for pediatrics in the Sky Tower, Hernandez said. The new tower will dedicate space about equally between women’s and children’s services, although the exact layout is still in the works, he said.

University Hospital serves the county’s indigent and uninsured population, as well as paying patients. It’s a Level I trauma center for adult care and the only Level I pediatric trauma center in South Texas.


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