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New University Hospital Sky Tower Opens For Patients

At 6 a.m. today University Hospital started moving 200 patients to its new, 1 million sq. ft. Sky Tower extension.

The opening of the new 10-floor tower marks the completion of the county's $899.4 million Capital Improvement Program for the health system and the largest construction project in Bexar County’s history.

A large metal sculpture set against native red Pecos sandstone greets patients at the main driveway of the new Sky Tower with 4,000 hand-painted bluebonnets.

University Hospital Communications Director LeniKirkman said the mural foretells dozens of other art works that can be seen inside and around the new building.

"We knew we were building a big hospital and there’s a lot of technology and medical-type items in here," Kirkman said. "And we thought, we need to create a space that’s not only advanced but also warm and welcoming."

The new level 1 trauma center provides a nexus of design enhancements that combine art, healing gardens and peaceful colors with high-tech modalities to help patients heal faster.

“One of the things we’ve done is equip the mattresses to reduce the risk of pressure ulcers, bed sores. That’s a real problem in hospitals,” Kirkman said.

Some of the patient rooms convert to suites and offer pull-out beds so family members may stay overnight  in the room with their loved one.

“Health care is changing a lot and one of the things is really the appreciation of the family as a critical member of the health care team," Kirkman said. "This building is constructed to enable a parent to stay here all night with their child and they will not be questioned. They will be encouraged to do that."

Patients can share one of three rooftop and ground floor gardens, and four rooms for seriously ill patients offer small, private gardens.

New technology is everywhere. Robots play a big role in supply and germ eradication.

“We have automated guided vehicles in this building. And so they will load up the tubing or whatever supplies are needed onto these AGVs that have their own dedicated elevator and run on a track of magnets and bring them up to the rooms,” Kirkman said.

“We’ve added a germ-zapping robot to our mix. So after the room is cleaned, with the appropriate solvents, they bring the robot in and set that in here to kill anything that might remain,” she said.

Kirkman said there should be little to no wait time in the ER -- it has doubled in size -- and each ER room can double in size in case of a major disaster.

“There are two sets of oxygen here," Kirkman said. "So if needed in an emergency situation – a mass casualty situation – even if both patients were needing oxygen you could slide one over, put another gurney in here and hook them up.”

The Sky Tower has multiple, covered ambulance bays, along with a special, covered bridge that remains closed until it is needed to rush AirLife patients in from the new helipad.

Kirkman said the carefully choreographed patient transfer is expected to take about 18 hours and will move the most critical patients first.

County officials hope to receive LEED Gold certification for the Sky Tower's use of automatic lighting, recycled materials, and water catchment systems. Kirkman said even though the hospital increased its space by 1 million sq. ft., it is using one-third less water and is adding 20 percent more green space.

The $899.4 million capital improvement program makes University Hospital one of the largest trauma centers in Texas. The program includes the Sky Tower, the new hospital garage and the recently opened Robert B. Green Campus Clinical Pavilion downtown and is expected to fill Bexar County’s future need for space that was declared critical in 2008.

Eileen Pace is a veteran radio and print journalist with a long history of investigative and feature reporting in San Antonio and Houston, earning more than 50 awards for investigative reporting, documentaries, long-form series, features, sports stories, outstanding anchoring and best use of sound.