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Northern Arizona Healthcare outlines additional plans for new FMC campus

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Staff from Flagstaff Medical Center watch the flyover of Flagstaff Medical Center by four aircraft from the Arizona Air National Guard on May 7.

In January, Northern Arizona Healthcare (NAH) plans to host two virtual public participation meetings about its planned development of a new Flagstaff Medical Center (FMC) campus.

The mandatory meetings, one held Jan. 6 and the other set for Tuesday, are the first phase of the city’s approval process. Afterwards, NAH plans to distribute a summary of both meetings to nearby residents while continuing to work on planning the campus. The next stage of getting the project approved is a presentation to the Planning and Zoning Commission and the Flagstaff City Council -- which has not yet been scheduled.

At the first meeting, some of the project's leaders discussed details of their plans for the new campus and responded to community feedback and questions.

The new location will include a health and wellness village in addition to the new hospital and ambulatory care center (ACC) that NAH plans to build for FMC.

“What we're envisioning is a healthy lifestyle destination, not only for the City of Flagstaff, but our region as a whole," said NAH's Chief Operations Officer Josh Tinkle. "That has emphasis on wellness, innovation, virtual care, and continuing to retain and keep the local healthcare that we have here right in northern Arizona. We want the hospital and ambulatory clinic to be an anchor for the site, but we do not want it to be the primary focus."

The primary reason for the new campus is that FMC’s location does not have enough room to adequately provide the care it needs to and that the location doesn’t offer the option for expansion. Two major streets run through the current campus, for example.

Most of FMC’s current campus was built in the 1980s, according to a timeline included in the presentation.

“The typical shelf life for hospitals here in Arizona is typically somewhere in that 30- to 50-year time frame,” said Steve Eiss, vice president of real estate and development. “Some of the major healthcare expansions in the Valley over the last decade were all to replace buildings that were originally constructed in the early 70s and 80s. …The real typical reason behind that has to do with just an inadequate size for what we need these days to make sure we have things like proper ventilation, new medical technologies and to provide current staffing efficiencies.”

He also said the hospital's current patient bed space was smaller than standards nationwide. FMC has around 1,700 square feet per bed currently, compared to a current national average of 2,300 -- which is predicted to be 2,500 by the end of the new campus’s projected development.

“We're more than 25 percent smaller than contemporary benchmarks and even smaller than that when we look into future casting what healthcare's going to be -- and again, the primary drivers of that are updated codes, increasing the size of operating rooms and patients along with necessary space for the infrastructure and proper ventilation," he said. 

Other changes that will require additional space are updating technology and adding an ACC and parking spaces (though COVID restrictions provide temporary mitigation, Eiss said the campus is currently short about 500 spaces, 1,000 if they were to add an ACC to the original site).

The presentation also outlined a broad timeline for the project’s other phases of development, though Eiss noted that this is more a “best guess” than anything set in stone.

The hospital and ACC will be built first, on a 55-acre parcel that will include 22 acres of ponderosa pine forest. This “wellness retreat” area will be a buffer between the hospital and property to the west (which is likely to become a residential area) in addition to giving connection to the current forest and Fort Tuthill County Park.

NAH is asking for an exception to Flagstaff’s height requirements for part of the hospital building. About 15% of the new hospital building will be over 80 feet, with a height of 150 feet being the tallest section listed. Eiss said half of the building will be 60 feet or less in height.

The reason for this request has to do with patient transport. NAH plans to have the first two floors of the hospital building be diagnostic and treatment areas, with inpatient rooms directly above, taking up most of the tallest part.

“Although that might sound counterintuitive to some people, the most efficient way to design a hospital for not only staff efficiency but patient efficiency to get to places like the OR [operating room] or imaging in case of an emergency is to bring them directly down vertically,” Eiss said.

After the completion of the hospital and ACC (by 2027, according to the presentation), the development will take place in three phases, planned to be completed in 2040. Phase 2 (2025-2030) includes a hotel and grocery store along with restaurants and retail, which will also be included in phase 3 (2027-2035), along with a conference center and clinical partnerships. The final phase (planned for 2030-2040), will include a research and development and incubator space.

Also included in the presentation were a few images depicting potential uses for the current FMC campus, though plans had not yet been decided.

These are based on analysis of “peer facilities” around the country, hospitals in smaller areas that have closed in the last decade and the things that have replaced them. Some themes they found that could be used as options include using the space for housing, senior living, memory care or a community gathering space. As with the health and wellness village, “small scale commercial mixed-use retail" was also an option.

“NAH is committed to ensuring that the redevelopment is in the best interests of the community,” Eiss said. “...We tried to show what a few mixes of those would be. We can take the existing campus we have and existing water and power and sewer infrastructure that is unlike most properties in the City of Flagstaff and while we don’t have adequate parking for our healthcare facility currently, we do have quite a bit of parking as it relates to other types of uses.

Redevelopment plans are far from finalized and the work isn’t expected to begin until 2028.

The presentation also addressed some of the feedback NAH had received on the project so far, both supportive and critical. The organization has held more than 50 community meetings on the project so far, Eiss said.

NAH has submitted an economic development plan to the City of Flagstaff. Once the project is complete, it expects to see a $389 million annual positive impact on the city.

It also expects to bring new clinical services and better access to care for northern Arizona residents, through things like additional oncology and rehabilitation services and decreased emergency department wait times.

The project’s traffic impact analysis has been submitted to the city and is currently under review. Eiss said the new location will be easier to access for the majority of patients, 60% of whom are not Flagstaff residents. He also said that, despite concerns, it was likely that Beulah would need to be widened to four lanes with new traffic signals to accommodate the additional traffic.

NAH is continuing to work with Mountain Line and other development partners to bring public transportation to the area around the new campus, according to Eiss.

The next public participation meeting for this project will take place virtually on Tuesday. Additional project details, links to the meeting and ways to give feedback can be found at nahealth.com/expansion.

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Slide from NAH presentation, detailing proposed development phases for FMC's new campus.

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