Concept of UNM Tower interior
By Makenzie McNeill

Building Higher

New Hospital Tower at UNM Hospital Will Offer New Mexicans Greater Access to Health Care

Next door to The University of New Mexico Hospital (UNMH), a 6.5-acre lot bustling with cranes and construction equipment will soon become the site of a new 96-bed adult critical care tower and 1,400-space parking structure.

The 570,000-square-foot New Hospital Tower, projected to open in Fall 2024, is needed to address longstanding overcrowding at UNMH by adding intensive care capacity, new operating rooms and a new emergency department.

The hospital is almost always on “Code Purple” status, meaning it is operating above capacity. Because available beds are already full, new patients can wait hours to be admitted.

Multiple factors contribute to the overcrowding.

UNMH is the only Level I trauma center in New Mexico, receiving patients from all over the state. As a tertiary care facility and teaching hospital it offers medical and surgical services that are unavailable elsewhere in the state, including the burn center, the UNM Children’s Hospital and the comprehensive stroke center.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the problem, with a significant number of patients being transferred to UNMH for higher level care from elsewhere in New Mexico.


Michael Chicarelli, DNP
I think the pandemic has highlighted that need for additional capacity, and it certainly would be helpful to have that capacity going forward
Michael Chicarelli, DNP

“I think the pandemic has highlighted that need for additional capacity, and it certainly would be helpful to have that capacity going forward,” says chief operating officer Michael Chicarelli, DNP.

At the pandemic’s peak, many patients had to defer surgical care until hospital capacity reached manageable levels. Additionally, many patients being admitted to the hospital now are sicker than expected, largely due to delayed primary and preventive care.

“We are in a crisis right now in New Mexico,” says Jennifer Vosburgh, DNP, RN, the hospital’s associate chief nursing officer. “The health care delivery system was not built for these current volumes. Patients are sicker, so they spend longer in the hospital and it takes longer for them to be discharged and free up a bed for another patient who is waiting to come in."

Patient capacity is not the only challenge facing the hospital. Some parts of the facility are more than 60 years old, and an upgrade is long overdue.

“A hallway that was designed, say 50 years ago, is narrower and the floor-to-ceiling heights are shorter and the doorways are smaller,” says Michael E. Richards, MD, MPA, senior vice president for clinical affairs at UNM Health Sciences. “In some cases, we have difficulty moving equipment in and out of rooms.”

The New Hospital Tower, built to 21st Century standards, will provide long-needed enhancements.

Because the existing hospital was constructed in stages over decades, and many clinical services are located far apart, it can take as much as 20 minutes to walk from one service to another. When it comes to caring for someone with a life-threatening injury or disease, every second counts.

The New Hospital Tower has been designed to consolidate all adult critical care services under one roof. These services include 18 new operating rooms, 96 ICU beds and an emergency department with more than 40 exam rooms.

Additionally, the new parking structure – which will connect to the tower via a pedestrian bridge – will enable patients to reach medical services faster.

The new facility includes amenities to enhance employee and patient well-being.

One example is the addition of more natural light in the tower, which research has proven to immensely benefit patients and staff in health care settings.

The bottom line is the new tower – with its expanded emergency room and intensive care unit – will allow more New Mexicans to receive critical medical care in New Mexico.

“The planned hospital expansion is really important for us to continue providing the care that we have the honor of providing for the people of New Mexico, in New Mexico,” says Steve McLaughlin, MD, chair of the UNM Department of Emergency Medicine & Critical Care.

The completion of the New Hospital Tower is still a few years away, but in the meantime, for patients experiencing devastating injury or illness, UNMH will continue to deliver exceptional, quality health care to all New Mexicans.

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