A massive construction effort – the largest capital expenditure ever made by the educational institution – is underway at the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC). The project includes construction of a new school of medicine, a translational research center, a parking garage, expansion of the children’s hospital and much more. 

“We currently have 125 projects under construction, and we have 181 projects in planning,” summarizes Patrick Casey, executive director – office of planning, design and construction (PDC). Those active construction projects total approximately $200 million. 

 The five-story School of Medicine will encompass 152,000 square feet and include simulation labs, exam and training rooms, lecture halls, conference centers and support space. The simulation rooms will use lifelike robots in settings such as operating rooms so medical students can practice certain procedures. UMMC is licensed for 770 beds and educates nearly 3,000 students, and the campus’ facilities encompass more than 5 million square feet.

A 125,000-square-foot, six-story cancer and biomedical research building is planned. “We have a cooperative agreement with the Mayo Clinic, so we’ll get into clinical trials for cancer research,” Casey says. “We’re studying Alzheimer’s Disease, so we have a mind center. We also have animal labs, as well.” The center will research diseases associated with neurosciences and brain functioning, and also host a business incubator for startup medical companies and a school for population health and preventive medicine.

“Mississippi has the highest incidence of diabetes and obesity in the country,” Casey asserts. “So one of our main focuses is population health, which not only is through education but also through outreach. We are in the process of opening up five wellness centers throughout Jackson, which are basically fitness centers.” 

Preserving the Style

The new buildings being constructed will be concrete structures with curtainwall, precast concrete panels and brick veneer to match the rest of the campus. “We have a style,” Casey says. “We use similar finishes on the exterior, and then we use a certain color of masonry and concrete and steel, so that it all blends in. So when you see our campus, you really can’t tell the age of the buildings because they all have similar materials on the exterior finishes.”

Although newly constructed buildings use a similar style to the old ones, which may be up to 80 years old, the oldest buildings are protected. “A lot of our buildings are governed by the Mississippi Department of History and Archives,” Casey points out. “They are similar to historically registered buildings where you can’t alter the original design of those buildings. You have to maintain the original finishes and design. So if you have a canopy that’s deteriorating, you can’t tear it down, you just have to restore it as if it’s protected as a historic building.”

Making No Small Plans

UMMC is updating its strategic master plan with the assistance of a team of master-planning consultants. “We’re going to update our master plan annually,” Casey says. “It’s a living document. We’re required to provide a master plan as part of our governance from the state, and it supports the institution’s strategic plan”

UMMC’s recently appointed vice chancellor, Dr. LouAnn Woodward, is playing a role in the master plan. “She has restructured the core leadership team, and we are implementing our strategic plan, which focuses on delivery of value-based care and quality improvements,” Casey says. “Our goal is to improve the health of the people of Mississippi. That is our overall mission statement, so our facilities plan really needs to support our strategic plan, which is the whole purpose of updating the master plan.”

Another project for which UMMC is providing space is a co-op for Mississippi farmers who are processing produce. UMMC owns a farmer’s market on its property. This is part of the initiative for wellness and healthy living that is affiliated with the medical center campus and funded by a grant from the United States Department of Agriculture. A parking garage for 1,000 cars also is being built. 

Private development is being encouraged on the UMMC campus. The Meridian at Fondren project is a mixed-use, public/private partnership development that will include apartments and retail. The American Cancer Society is building a Hope Lodge and an office building on campus. Additionally, UMMC also is planning a comprehensive cancer center and a separate standalone children’s safe house for counseling abused children. UMMC has approximately 52 outpatient ambulatory clinics, and six more currently are planned throughout the state. Additionally, UMMC has 175 telehealth locations throughout the state of Mississippi, serving rural communities that have no doctors.

An expansion of the children’s hospital is part of the master plan. “We completed some initial programming and planning, and right now, we’re validating the business case for it,” Casey says. “We’re planning to hire designers and contractors probably early next year.” The budget for this project has not yet been finalized. 

Upgrading Infrastructure

One important area of UMMC that is set for major expansion is its emergency response program called MED-COM, which opened in 2008. It was created after Hurricane Katrina when emergency responders and law enforcement agencies had no common radio system. UMMC is the state’s only level 1 trauma center and serves as the major emergency referral center through MED-COM. 

 The strategic master plan includes upgrading the utility infrastructure on the UMMC campus and also the redundancy required for an emergency command center and back-up system to transmit and receive healthcare information during recovery from a disaster. “We’re designated one of the first responders in the state for any disaster recovery,” Casey says. “We have an emergency response team, and we have a mobile hospital at Jackson Airport that we can deploy down to the Gulf Coast in the event of a hurricane or natural disaster. We can erect and set up patient care tents similar to what you’d see in the military.”

Because UMMC is so intimately involved with the design and construction of each building that is part of its master plan, it can use value-engineering techniques to ensure that structures are being built for the best value. “Before we do any project, we do a comprehensive business plan to validate the return on investment,” Casey says.

Self-Funding

Watching costs and calculating the return on investment for the various buildings in the master plan is important because UMMC is self-funding. “We get less than 2 percent of our funding from the state,” Casey reports. “Most of our funding is generated through our tuition and patient revenue. We have some federal grants for research from the National Institute of Standards and Technology and some from the Mississippi Development Authority, which is like the Department of Commerce. They funnel money through state agencies for infrastructure improvements.”

UMMC manages a real estate portfolio, all the campus’ internal design standards and is responsible for obtaining furniture, fixtures and equipment. “We are in the midst of a system-wide space audit and will apply lean principles to better utilize existing space,” Casey says. 

Providing equipment is challenging to UMMC’s budget. “You’ve got to continually invest in capital equipment and electronic medical records, which are very expensive to implement,” Casey emphasizes. “It’s also a challenge to maintain these old buildings – you’ll find that everywhere.”

One way to overcome those construction challenges is to put together individuals with the correct expertise. “With our master planning initiative, we are attracting national firms, but then they may not have a lot of knowledge of our state,” Casey notes. “So it’s just getting the right team in place that can really help us. Typically, a national firm will partner with a Mississippi architect to formulate a team so that they have people here locally that can be available for meetings and follow-up.”

Casey attributes UMMC’s success to its 21 PDC employees – who include architects, project managers, real estate professionals, planners and support staff – and leadership. “Everything starts at the top, and I think our success can be attributed to the senior leadership that we have in place,” he says. “It’s that and the talent that we’ve recruited from around the country to manage the program.” 

The future of the strategic facilities master plan includes expansion of ambulatory services and both inpatient and outpatient clinical services. But all the facilities in the world won’t matter if patients are not receiving the care they need and students the education they require.

“Our No. 1 priority is to provide the best quality of care to the patients, and then training professionals to improve health outcomes and to eliminate health disparities,” Casey says. “We have a lot of health disparities in the state of Mississippi. We are trying to turn the health of our population around. Our driving force is to help make them healthier.”

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