Concept art of UNM Hospital tower extension
By Makenzie McNeill

Upgrading Capacity

New UNM Hospital Critical Care Tower Will Include Expanded Emergency Department

When Steve McLaughlin arrived at The University of New Mexico Hospital to begin his residency in emergency medicine in 1995, the emergency department (ED) had fewer than 20 beds. An empty waiting room in the mornings was not an unusual sight.

Fast forward two decades. That once-small ED is now the busiest in New Mexico.

McLaughlin, now the chair of the UNM Department of Emergency Medicine, has seen the ED undergo several renovations to keep pace with the state’s growing health care needs. The latest iteration resides in the Barbara & Bill Richardson Pavilion, built in 2007.

But the hospital has outgrown this innovative space as patient volumes and the demands for care continue to rise every year. That’s why UNMH is giving its ED another much-needed upgrade.

Debuting in late 2024, UNM Hospital’s new hospital tower will house a new, larger emergency department. It will include 40 exam rooms, two trauma and eight resuscitation bays, two triage and eight fast track bays, 10 behavioral health rooms, two CT scanners and two general radiology suites.


Steve McLaughlin, MD
It is really exciting to see the growth over all these years, how we went from a small space and not very busy, to where we are today
Steve McLaughlin, MD

“It is really exciting to see the growth over all these years, how we went from a small space and not very busy, to where we are today,” McLaughlin says. “And the new hospital tower is a dramatic visual reminder of what an amazing place this is.”

The ED expansion is inextricably linked to UNM Hospital’s unique mission as the state’s only Level I trauma center.  New Mexicans with the most severe injuries and illnesses come through the doors every day, creating an overwhelming demand for the unique services that are only available at UNMH, and the ED is consistently full.

For years, the teams that serve on the frontlines in the ED have worked diligently to meet patient needs with limited space and resources. Then COVID-19 arrived, which complicated that already intricate balance.

Inpatient volume has skyrocketed in recent years, overwhelming the hospital and ED. The acute lack of available beds has often meant that patients received care in hallways or in the waiting room.

Although plans for a new hospital were in the works long before COVID, the pandemic has amplified the need for an upgraded emergency department.

Mindy Rivera, a clerical supervisor with 14 years of experience in emergency services at UNMH, has seen firsthand the desperate need for more space and resources.

“Having the extra beds will be a huge help for us,” she says. “I think that all of the new technology and the layout of the new emergency department is also going to be very good for our patients.”

The new emergency department in the critical care tower will tackle chronic space limitations and overcapacity.

Concept art of UNM Hospital tower critical care lobby
Critical Care Lobby
Concept art of UNM Hospital tower EMS reception desk
EMS Reception Desk
Concept art of UNM Hospital tower critical care trauma room
Trauma Room

With state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment and more exam rooms, patients will spend less time waiting and more time receiving care. The expanded space will also specifically help several critical populations like trauma and critical care patients (including those suffering strokes and heart attacks).

The opening of the critical care tower is still a few years away. But as construction continues, UNMH gets closer to realizing its mission of caring for more New Mexicans in New Mexico.

McLaughlin, who came to an unassuming emergency department nearly three decades ago, feels a vast sense of gratitude to everyone who made this hospital expansion possible.

“This is a big project, and it has required support from the leaders of our community and state,” he says. “I want people to understand just how grateful we are for this opportunity. We are so excited to continue providing care for the people of New Mexico in this beautiful building.”

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