UCLA health center readies move

Times Staff Writer

On Sunday, 2,100 doctors, nurses, technicians and managers at UCLA Medical Center will participate in a task of epic proportions: moving to the gleaming new hospital across the street.

Although the distance is short, the details are daunting. The shift to the new Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center will require military-style precision. Using 30 ambulances and 80 gurneys, three teams of professionals will transfer 350 patients -- many of them hooked up to monitors and respirators -- at the rate of one every two minutes.

“Patient move day” will cap a months-long process. Getting the hospital ready involved installing 18,000 pieces of furniture, 2,800 computers, 1,700 networked medical devices, 3,100 phones and 580 flat-panel TVs; ordering and stocking fresh gauze, linens and pharmaceuticals for 65 departments; rehearsing rescue-helicopter landings on the two new helipads; and ensuring that every radiologist, pharmacist and surgeon will know how to navigate the building and operate the latest in high-tech equipment from Day 1.

The long-awaited move to what UCLA officials describe as the nation’s most up-to-date hospital has been eight years in the planning.


The 1-million-square-foot building, which visitors have likened to a concert hall or museum, was designed by C.C. “Didi” Pei and his firm, Pei Partnership of New York, with guidance from his father, architect I.M. Pei. It replaces the 53-year-old center that was heavily damaged in the 1994 Northridge earthquake.

After it is “decommissioned” as a hospital, that structure will continue to house the David Geffen School of Medicine, the UCLA School of Dentistry and the UCLA School of Public Health.

The new hospital, clad in Italian travertine from a quarry owned by a former UCLA cancer patient, features 520 large patient rooms -- all of them private -- with expansive views and day beds for family members. It has wireless Internet access, outdoor play areas for children and operating rooms with state of the art video equipment.

“This facility is historic,” said David T. Feinberg, chief executive of the UCLA hospital system. “We have really created a place of healing.”

Although it’s world renowned for surgical breakthroughs and caring for acutely ill patients, the UCLA Medical Center has been the subject of scandals in recent years: the possibly illegal sale of hundreds of donated cadavers, employee snooping into celebrities’ medical records and liver transplants for four Japanese patients later shown to have ties to organized crime.

Then there were the delays and cost overruns in the building of the new hospital itself -- the largest building ever constructed in the UC system. UCLA officials blamed the rising costs on construction materials and design changes to accommodate medical advances.

The most recent hitch, a water leak caused by the faulty installation of an institutional coffee maker, pushed the opening back from early May.

During construction, the budget ballooned to about $829 million from an initial projection of $598 million in 1998, when officials envisioned a late 2004 opening. Equipment purchases brought the total cost to $1 billion.


The Federal Emergency Management Agency contributed $432 million in earthquake relief toward the project, and the state of California gave $44 million. Private donors contributed nearly $300 million, including a $150-million pledge in the late President Reagan’s name. The rest came from hospital financing and bonds.

The eight-story hospital has two basement levels and three towers, shaped more or less like quarter circles, with patient rooms along the outer walls. Nurses operate from stations toward the center of each floor.

Each floor features a lobby with a big window, and most hallways have windows at each end, making it much easier to navigate than the old facility. “We used light to help people get around,” C.C. Pei said.

The new hospital, begun in late 1999, is one of the first built to the state’s stricter seismic-safety standards. It is designed to withstand an 8.0 magnitude earthquake and remain structurally sound and fully operational without outside resources for as long as 72 hours.


Its design is a far cry from the old center, which has long, gloomy hallways that served as thoroughfares for carts, wheelchairs, doctors, visitors, patients, students and custodians. The new hospital has four separate elevator banks: regular passenger elevators for staff and visitors, deep and narrow elevators for patients in gurneys, elevators for materials and trash hauling, and an elevator that connects the rooftop helipads with operating rooms and the emergency department.

Preparing for the patient move has required coordination with a gaggle of city and county departments. From 3 a.m. to 3 p.m. on patient move day, UCLA will divert ambulances to other hospitals, with trauma patients going to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Police will block off several streets to keep spectators and traffic at bay.

Local hospitals “have been notified that they may expect a little bump in their census,” said Johanna Bruner, a family nurse practitioner who directs cardiology and emergency services for the UCLA health system.

What happens if someone shows up at the emergency entrance of the new hospital on move-in day? “If you walk in, we will totally accept you,” Bruner said. At 5 a.m., the old emergency department will close and the new one will officially open.


To get everyone geared up, the 60-person transition team in recent months has carried out mock moves and sent nurses on scavenger hunts, to make sure they know where to find the most obscure catheter or the most obvious emergency room cart.

James Atkinson, a pediatric surgeon who is directing the transition, said the old center a few weeks ago began whittling down the facility’s usual patient level of 500 to reduce the crush on moving day.

Starting at 5:30 a.m., about 50 psychiatric patients will travel by ambulance or bus to the new facility. They are in addition to the 350 medical or surgical patients being moved from one bed to another.

The schedule calls for one patient to be moved every two minutes. If all goes as planned, the final patient should be settled in by 3 p.m.


The transition team is taking no chances. UCLA has rented 60 ventilators. Backup porters and respiratory technicians will be on hand, as will elevator mechanics and electricians. Health Care Relocations, the moving company hired for the job, has closed its three offices and brought all 30 employees to Los Angeles.

The company moves about 20 hospitals a year, but this one is distinguished by its sheer size and the severity of patients’ condition, said Patrick Moriarty, president.

“All the hard work is done, and now it’s just executing,” he said. “It’s right down to the minute.”