Rain blamed as cost of Austin’s new teaching hospital hits $310 million


Abundant rainfall in Austin last year brought respite from a stubborn drought, but it also added to the cost of the city’s new teaching hospital.

The price tag for the hospital, expected to open in May 2017, has ticked up 5 percent, from $295 million to $310 million, officials said this week. The main reasons are construction delays from rain and higher labor costs linked to Austin’s building boom, said Adrienne Lallo, spokeswoman for the Seton Healthcare Family, the hospital’s owner.

“We had about twice as many rain delays as expected,” Lallo said.

Last year was the second-wettest year on record in Austin, when 59.96 inches fell at Camp Mabry, a little less than the 64.68 inches that swamped Austin in 1919.

When Seton unveiled plans for the hospital in 2012, officials estimated the cost at $250 million. The next year, they upped that to $295 million, saying the new number was more realistic.

The hospital’s construction, in the center of a medical school complex that extends north of 15th Street between Trinity Street and Interstate 35, is about halfway done, said Christann Vasquez, hospital president. She expects all of the exterior work to be completed by year’s end. A crane still remaining on the site will come down later this month, a spokesman said.

The new hospital will have “smart rooms,” including monitors that will be used for patient education, TV viewing and identifying staff members as they walk into the room, Vasquez said. When a staff member checks a patient’s blood pressure, temperature or heart rate, the results will simultaneously be recorded on the patient’s electronic medical record, she added.

Hospital officials said they are getting advice from a committee of patients and families on everything from signage to floor plans, Vasquez said. They revised the words on signs to make sense to people not versed in hospitalese, Vasquez said.

Seton will operate — and, more significantly, own — the new hospital. That change, which prompted few objections in Austin, will end 133 years of public ownership of University Medical Center Brackenridge, which has existed under various names since opening as the state’s first public hospital in 1884. Seton has operated UMC Brackenridge, at 601 E. 15th St., since 1995 and now leases it from the public hospital district, Central Health.

That hospital will close when the new Dell Seton Medical Center at the University of Texas — across 15th Street from the UMC Brackenridge parking garage — opens. It will be the primary teaching hospital for medical students at UT Dell Medical School and for new doctors in residency training. It also will continue to be the safety-net hospital for the needy and the highest level trauma center for an 11-county region.

With 517,247 square feet, it will have 211 beds with the capacity to add 135 beds. UMC Brackenridge is larger, with 533,514 square feet, and has had 224 beds in operation in recent years. But as Seton and Central Health officials seek to keep people healthier and out of the hospital, the average daily census is now at 172 patients, Lallo said.

Some services in the old hospital, which Vasquez also heads, won’t transfer to the new hospital, including same-day surgery and other outpatient services. Consequently, there will be more space for hospital services, including larger trauma rooms, Vasquez said.

Seton is paying for $260 million of the hospital’s cost, with the rest coming from donations. The Michael & Susan Dell Foundation pledged $25 million, hence the hospital’s name. To date, about 80 percent of $50 million has been raised, Lallo said, adding that officials aren’t worried about meeting the goal.



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