HealthSouth digital hospital

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Digital hospital from across U.S. 280 in March 2010

The HealthSouth digital hospital was an uncompleted project for a landmark all-digital "hospital of the future" which would serve as the full-service flagship of HealthSouth's far-reaching chain of rehabilitation hospitals and outpatient facilities. Construction of the hospital began in November 2001 on 19 acres of the HealthSouth corporate headquarters campus near the Cahaba River on U. S. Highway 280 in Birmingham. Construction was halted in 2003 in the wake of HealthSouth's massive accounting scandal. The unfinished building was purchased by the Daniel Corporation for $43.5 million in 2008. Later that year Trinity Medical Center announced that it would invest $236 million to buy and finish the facility, scrapping plans for a $316 million hospital in Irondale. After clearing several legal hurdles, Trinity began construction in 2013 with the re-named Grandview Medical Center slated to open in 2016.

Design

The sleekly-modern design was the work of Birmingham's CLA Architecture in association with Kirksey Architecture of Houston, Texas, which was responsible for designing and detailing the external cladding.

The 13-story building was joined by a smaller physicians' office building to total nearly 1 million square feet. An adjacent 10-level parking garage was designed to accommodate 1,500 vehicles. The lower three floors of the building were designed for hospital functions, with 3 MRI units and as many as 30 operating suites. A gamma knife facility was planned for the second floor, in a heavily shielded concrete enclosure. The fifth floor would serve as a hotel for the families of patients while another floor would be left unfinished for future expansion. Above that level, the building's footprint was reduced to a 110 by 330 foot rectangle. Floors 6 through 13 would house 219 patient rooms and the uppermost floor would serve as a mechanical penthouse.

HealthSouth founder Richard Scrushy conceived of the project as a prototype for a technologically-advanced 21st century hospital. Medical staff would have constant secure access to patient records, charts and medical imaging throughout the facility. Suppliers of medical equipment collaborated with the architects to tailor the design for evolving systems.

Structural engineer LBYD, Inc. designed a heavy concrete frame to shoulder the structural requirements of the hospital tower. About 80,000 cubic yards of special high-strength concrete were poured for the hospital, parking deck and site walls. Estimates of construction cost climbed at one point to over $400 million.

Left unfinished

In 2003, in the wake of an accounting scandal that implicated most of HealthSouth's executive leadership, construction of the digital hospital was suspended. Contractor Brasfield & Gorrie elected to complete the exterior cladding in order to avoid leaving the interior exposed to the elements. HealthSouth's new leadership expressed a desire to sell the property soon after taking the reigns of the company in 2004. Real estate consultants expressed serious doubts about the suitability of the building's unusual design for hospital functions. Among the building's weaknesses were the location of the emergency department on the second floor of the building.

Later proposals

Real estate developer Hall Thompson announced in early 2007 that he was interested in purchasing the facility and completing it as a full-service hospital for the rapidly-growing Highway 280 corridor. His group's application for an operating permit would have required cooperation from an established hospital, which was not forthcoming.

The entire campus, with the headquarters, conference center, and unfinished hospital was under contract to be sold to the Dallas-based Trammell Crow Company in June 2007 for $60 million, however, Trammell Crow backed out of the deal weeks later. In March 2008, the complex was sold to the Daniel Corporation for $43.5 million. A hotel and new office building were on the drawing board, and the hospital site was marketed towards military or private hospital development.

Local officials, including Senator Richard Shelby, pitched the idea of relocating the Birmingham VA Medical Center to the site. The General Services Administration recommended against the idea.

In late September 2008, Trinity Medical Center announced plans to invest $236 million to buy and finish the facility, ditching plans for a $316 million hospital in Irondale. The City of Birmingham included $55 million in incentives to Trinity as well.

In June 2009 Trinity released an economic impact study claiming that the proposed medical and office complex at the site (including the hospital, two medical office buildings, two hotels, retail stores, office buildings and parking decks) would cost $750 million in all and would provide 5,500 jobs by 2023 (including those relocated from Trinity's current location). The study projects tax revenues of $143 million for the City of Birmingham over the course of the project, not counting $55 million in tax incentives promised by the city.

Their application to the State's Certificate of Need Review Board was opposed by residents of Eastern Birmingham and by Brookwood Medical Center, which would stand to lose a significant amount of business to the new hospital. Administrative Law Judge James Hampton held a six-week hearing, resulting in his recommendation that the CON board approve the project.

References

  • Ochs, Joyce R. (June 2001) "'Hospital of Future' Rises in Birmingham" Managed Care
  • Portland Cement Association (n. d.) "HealthSouth Digital Hospital: Birmingham Alabama". Case Studies: Healthcare.
  • Hubbard, Russell & Dawn Kent (June 2, 2007) "Unused hospital, HQ sold." Birmingham News
  • Kent, Dawn (January 23, 2008) "Developer Daniel Corp. strikes deal with HealthSouth to buy U.S. 280 campus in Birmingham, Alabama." Birmingham News
  • Tomberlin, Michael and Anna Velasco (September 30, 2008) "Trinity Medical to buy HealthSouth's abandoned hospital." Birmingham News
  • Velasco, Anna (June 10, 2009) "Study shows proposed Trinity Medical Center-Daniel development on U.S. 280 would be huge boost to economy." Birmingham News
  • Diel, Stan (September 12, 2010) "Empty hospital on U.S. 280 in Birmingham awaits an owner." Birmingham News

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