Northern Arizona’s only Level 1 trauma center is looking to relocate from its position on Flagstaff’s Hospital Hill to a new medical campus near Fort Tuthill.
On Tuesday afternoon, officials with Northern Arizona Healthcare hand-delivered their application for the new hospital and outpatient clinic to the Flagstaff planning and development department.
The new 700,000-square-foot medical center and a 200,000-square-foot outpatient and recovery center represents the first step in the development of a medical campus in the area.
That campus will include nearly 190 acres of currently undeveloped area just north of Fort Tuthill and off of Beulah Boulevard.
The new facilities will eventually replace the current Flagstaff Medical Center situated on Hospital Hill and NAH officials say they will be working closely with city staff to help determine the future of that property.
“We really decided that a new campus was what was going to serve our communities into the future and prepare us to care for generations to come throughout northern Arizona,” NAH CEO Flo Spyrow told the Arizona Daily Sun. “That includes now not only a hospital, but a significant ambulatory campus and a health village that's going to focus on the health and wellness of our communities and really be a destination for people to come and improve their health and enjoy life throughout northern Arizona.”
Steve Eiss, vice president of construction and real estate development for NAH, said they had previously looked at further expansions but determined the site was capacity constrained.
The new hospital and outpatient clinic will represent a $750 million investment on the part of NAH, Eiss said. That price tag includes the cost of construction, permitting, design, new medical equipment and information technology systems.
That also includes the cost of the land the new facilities will sit on, although not the cost of all 190 acres that will make up the campus.
And with historically low interest rates, NAH Chief Operating Officer Josh Tinkle said the organization will borrow to cover a portion of that cost.
In submitting their application Friday, Eiss said the next public phase of the project begins and they plan to hold community meetings so they can solicit feedback from the Flagstaff community.
Should the city approve the requested change in zoning on the property, the new outpatient clinic may be open by 2023. But it will likely take many more years for the new hospital itself to be built and then open, Eiss said, and they expect hospital staff to begin moving out of the current facility in 2027.
With construction of such a large facility, the project could employ as many as 750 to 800 construction workers on site for between 4 to 5 years.
The location near Interstate 17 and the Flagstaff Airport is also a plus, Tinkle said, as the current location is somewhat difficult to access for those coming from out of town.
And that’s an important factor: More than half of the patients that access the hospital’s care do not reside in Flagstaff, Spyrow said.
The main structure of the existing Flagstaff Medical Center is about 50 years old, with the most recent expansion close to 25 years old. And Tinkle said that age quickly became apparent last year as they began managing the pandemic.
With an airborne virus such as COVID-19, it became extremely important to circulate fresh air into rooms while pulling out potentially contaminated air.
But their older HVAC systems were unable to pull air out of a room and keep fresh air circulating. As such, they often resorted to attaching large fans to open windows. That worked to keep fresh air in a room, Tinkle said, but it also made a huge amount of noise and blocked out light.
“A more modern hospital would allow us to do some stuff with the air handling units […] to make sure we have better air flow for respiratory illnesses such as COVID. And since we did not have that modern facility, with single occupancy rooms, we really had to retrofit a lot of the facility to be able to take care of patients,” Tinkle said.
Spyrow said the pandemic also showed the stressful conditions staff sometimes work under. As they look to a new facility, she said they plan to include more staff-centered spaces where a nurse might be able to step away and take a breath.
Simply put, Tinkle said the way medical facilities are designed has changed a lot in the last 50 years.
“So you'll see a lot more open air, you know, more light, bright spaces,” Tinkle said of the new hospital. “That has certainly changed over 50 years from a health perspective.”
Once it is built out, the whole campus will include more than just the new hospital.
For one, the campus will include buildings to house other medical partners, labs and offices for research and development, and a conference center.
Additionally, the campus will also include a mixed use development that Tinkle said will bring a combination of commercial buildings with residential living space above shops.
That area will be a “live, work, eat, play kind of concept, but with a real focus on wellness,” Tinkle said.
The housing will provide homes for NAH employees as well as other Flagstaff residents who have nothing to do with the hospital. That will also include hotels to accommodate those who may travel from out of town to seek care at the facility, and their families.
Eiss said NAH plans to retain ownership of the land, leasing portions of the property to third-party developers.
Adrian Skabelund can be reached by phone at (928) 556-2261, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @AdrianSkabelund.