TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - The official groundbreaking for Banner University Medical Center happened Thursday, May 26, as construction remains in its earliest stages on the $400 million, nine-story building.
It will take the place of the current hospital that's nearly 50 years old.
The new hospital is a symbol of major changes that the partnership between Banner and the University of Arizona has brought.
The UA says Banner bought the then-University of Arizona Medical Center at a time when the UA Health Network was hemorrhaging $6 million a month.
"The future of the University of Arizona Health Sciences without this partnership was very bleak," University of Arizona President Dr. Ann Weaver Hart said.
The university turned to the not-for-profit Banner system for a financial partner. Banner has 29 hospitals in seven states.
"Without a strong partner that is also committed to applying the translation of our cutting edge research into clinical practice as well as providing financial support for the marriage of clinic with education and research we couldn't have succeeded," Hart said.
Banner also is spending another $100 million on a new outpatient clinic next door to University of Arizona Cancer Center.
Banner UMC will continue to be the only level one trauma center in southern Arizona.
The UA Health Network sale to Banner a little over a year ago has brought some upheaval with some high-profile people, including trauma surgeons, leaving.
One of those surgeons, Dr. Peter Rhee, has said the new partnership means less focus on research.
Hart countered Thursday that "research is actually soaring at the University of Arizona. We have secured more than $60 million of new funded research from the National Institutes of Health. We've got a partnership that brings in incredible researchers. We have more grant-active faculty than we have ever had at the University and that partnership is very healthy going forward."
"It's really important that we keep those successes in mind and look to the future to make sure that we develop the kind of academic medical center that this community deserves," Hart said.
Banner insists medical research is a focus and will continue.
"They've always done amazing research here and, if anything, our affiliation is going to enhance that," Banner UMC CEO Tom Dickson said.
Dickson explained Banner's reasons for wanting to partner a university at an academic hospital.
"The discoveries that take place in an academic medical center are going to translate very well into what we're doing as a health care system," Dickson said.
There is acknowledgment that change can be challenging, but also insistence that things are settling down with patient care still the focus.
"We now have nursing leaders and all the nurses at the bedside who truly are now coming together and saying what's the best practice and how can we use research and evidence to provide that best practice to our patients?" Banner UMC Chief Nursing Officer Cathy Townsend said.
At the peak of construction, it is expected more than 400 workers will be on the site.
The new Banner UMC hospital is set to open in early 2019.
Hart said the old hospital, just to the east of the new site will be re-purposed. The new outpatient clinic is scheduled to open in the winter 2017-2018.