LEAGUE CITY — Groundbreaking for a $90 million expansion of the University of Texas Medical Branch’s Victory Lakes facilities, which would allow the organization to attract more paying patients in the north county, could commence as early as February if a state agency approves.
The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, which oversees all public postsecondary education in the state, is expected Jan. 24 to review the medical branch’s plans to add 142,000 square feet of clinical space that would allow for 39 patient beds and inpatient stays of up to 72 hours, among other additions. The development is valued at $82 million. In a related project, the medical branch will build an $8 million central plant to provide utilities to its 62-acre Victory Lakes campus.
The UT System Board of Regents on Nov. 14 approved design development plans for the project, which is expected to better position the medical branch in an affluent area where health-care providers are aggressively staking out territories. Officials said they didn’t expect resistance from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.
The medical branch in 2010 opened its $61 million Specialty Care Center at Victory Lakes, 2240 Interstate 45. The 110,000-square-foot center offers state-of-the-art imaging services, outpatient surgery, a breast health center, a full-service laboratory and other specialty services. But the existing center is set up to accommodate four-hour recoveries, not overnight stays.
Along with the 39 inpatient beds, the expansion also would include 17 emergency/urgent care treatment rooms; four operating rooms; endoscopy rooms; and 25,000 square feet of shell space for future development.
Also, the finished site will provide increased imaging capabilities, including an X-ray fluoroscopy facility, ultrasound and a computed tomography unit.
The utilities project would include a 5,000-square-foot plant to provide more thermal utilities, normal and emergency electrical power and redundancy for each system, officials said. The system would be capable of independently providing electricity and hot and chilled water for up to 72 hours. The design calls for three 400-ton chillers.
Expansion at Victory Lakes would solidly position the medical branch to compete against a proliferating number of urgent and emergency care facilities on the mainland and other medical facilities in the Clear Lake area.
The League City facilities are meant to increase the number of paying patients, and with them revenues, at the medical branch, which for years was in the red as it struggled to continue a tradition of serving the state’s poorest people. Under scrutiny from lawmakers and regents for what they deemed a reckless financial policy, the medical branch has drastically curbed spending on uninsured patients while working to increase the number of insured and otherwise paying patients.
Growth in Victory Lakes has always been part of a campus master plan, medical branch officials said. With future development in mind, the medical branch in August 2008 paid $9.4 million for 29 acres near Interstate 45, FM 646 and the Victory Lakes subdivision and next to the 35 acres where the specialty care center was built.
Initially, the medical branch’s mainland growth was a sore subject on the island, which was still stinging from cost-cutting measures and layoffs in 2006, when officials began discussing plans for the specialty care center. The development stirred speculation and concern that the county’s largest employer and medical provider was forsaking the island, where it operates a large teaching hospital and research facilities, to stake out territory in more affluent areas.
It also rankled private practitioners on the mainland, who complained about the prospect of competing with a state-funded institution.
Medical branch officials have said all along they’re committed to the island, pointing to the $438 million Jennie Sealy Hospital, construction of which is under way. The new hospital, expected to be completed in 2015 and in operation in 2016, is being built on the site of the recently demolished Jennie Sealy Building and an old Shriner’s Hospital building.
The new island hospital is being paid for by $150 million in tuition revenue bonds approved by the state Legislature, $18 million in medical branch funds and $270 million in philanthropy, which includes $170 million from The Sealy & Smith Foundation.
The cost of the $90 million expansion in Victory Lakes would be paid for by revenue financing system bonds, to be repaid from revenues generated by the development, officials said.
The central plant is scheduled to be complete in August 2014; the clinical space is scheduled for completion in February 2015.