Trustees OK higher spending for UI Hospital renovation

SPRINGFIELD — University of Illinois trustees approved a major increase in spending Thursday to renovate the 32-year-old University of Illinois Hospital in Chicago.

The work entails a variety of interior and exterior upgrades to the main building at 1740 W. Taylor St., and is expected to total $85 million, up from the $40 million estimated a few years ago, according to university officials.

The university plans to pay for the projects with a future bond sale.

The goal is to improve the physical structure of the hospital as well as improve care delivery, said Bryan Becker, the hospital's associate vice president for operations.

The upgrades will "bring the health system up to where it needs to be" to provide exceptional patient care and make the hospital environment state-of-the art, he said. Planned projects include replacing air handling units, plumbing fixtures and pipes, upgrading elevators, distributing emergency power to imaging equipment, moving the phone system to a voice-over-Internet-protocol technology and more. A two-story addition is planned for one part of the main hospital and will include a conference center and gastrointestinal laboratory expansion. Other parts of the hospital will receive new entry and elevators, the eye and ear infirmary will be remodeled, and several other units will receive upgrades.

Projects are expected to wrap up by the end of the fiscal year ending June 30, 2015.

A list of needed work was drafted a few years ago and since then the list was expanded to include more projects, prompting the increase in budget, according to UI spokesman Tom Hardy.

On Thursday, trustees also approved a list of underwriters and bond counsel who will prepare documents in advance of the actual sale of Health Service Facilities System Revenue bonds. That approval will likely be forwarded to trustees at their next meeting in January, according to UI Chief Financial Officer Walter Knorr. The hospital has spent about $7 million out-of-pocket on the projects so far. Knorr said officials will try to finance the total amount of $85 million without reducing the bond rating, which is currently A1.

The hospital and health system are expected to deal with a number of changes in the future, following the re-election of President Barack Obama and the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, said UI Trustee Tim Koritz, chair of the board's health affairs committee and a doctor at Rockford Memorial Hospital.

Such anticipated changes include how the hospital and its doctors are reimbursed, at what rates and other regulatory requirements. Koritz said these changes are "as far-reaching as we have ever seen in our history."

It's in the university's DNA, he said "to approach challenges in a deliberate manner ... but we may not have that luxury. We may need to respond with greater alacrity than is our norm."

He expressed confidence in the university's leadership team, and said the university "must be nimble to adapt to quick changes" coming to the hospital, College of Medicine, College of Dentistry, College of Pharmacy and other units.

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