Concept art of the vertical expansion of UNM Hospital tower
By Makenzie McNeill

Growing Higher

New UNM Hospital Tower to Include Two Additional Levels for Greater Patient Capacity

In 2021, UNM Hospital broke ground on a seven-level, 96-bed critical care tower. Over a decade in the making, this contemporary medical facility will help UNMH further its mission of caring for more New Mexicans in New Mexico when it debuts in 2024.   

Now, UNMH is taking construction on the tower to new heights.

Earlier this year, the New Mexico Higher Education Department and State Board of Finance gave UNMH the green light to move forward with a vertical expansion of the new tower. This ambitious development adds two additional floors and even more hospital beds to the tower.

“The time to build these two additional levels is now,” says Chief Operating Officer Michael Chicarelli, DNP. “It is more efficient from a construction and hospital service standpoint to include these two additional levels in the overall construction of the new hospital tower than it is to construct them later.”

From the very beginning of the hospital expansion, UNMH always hoped to add more levels to the tower. For that reason, higher-strength foundations were incorporated into the design so additional floors could be added at a future date. 

That future date is here.

Adding the two levels after 2024 would create many unwelcome barriers. One potential obstacle includes the closure of the topmost level of the tower to make way for construction equipment. This would require the loss of 48 hospital beds, causing a substantial disruption in the vital services provided to New Mexicans.

Building the two levels now avoids these problems and will allow patient care to continue uninterrupted.

The most notable advantage of the vertical expansion is the increased inpatient capacity. While the COVID-19 pandemic brought the shortage of hospital beds and rising patient numbers into the public eye, this has been a historic problem across New Mexico – one worsened by the pandemic.

Even as COVID numbers decline, the desperate need for more hospital beds remains as non-COVID patients continue to require health care services more than ever.

And the original 96 beds, though a significant improvement, would still not be enough to meet the demand.

The vertical expansion will ultimately add an additional 96 universal hospital beds on levels 7 and 8, bringing the total number of beds in the tower to approximately 190.

Vertical expansion concept art on Lomas and Yale
Lomas and Yale view of the vertical expansion
Concept art of vertical expansion from the northeast
Northeast view of the vertical expansion
Concept art of vertical expansion from the northwest
Northwest view of the vertical expansion
Concept art of vertical expansion from the southeast
Southeast view of the vertical expansion

But New Mexico must wait a while for the two levels to open. UNMH is only building the shell and core – the exterior portion of the two additional levels – during this phase of construction.

Construction on the interior portion, which will not disrupt services, will be completed after 2024. The reason for the delay in the opening of the two levels is simple: staffing.

There is currently a substantial shortage of health care workers in New Mexico, and UNMH is already recruiting the workforce needed for the initial 96 beds. Also, as a teaching hospital, UNMH must expand its physician residency program to maintain the additional beds.

Therefore, UNMH will continue its partnership with the UNM School of Medicine to build these residency programs and accommodate the staffing levels needed in the tower. The hospital expects to open the additional floors by 2027.

Although completion is a few additional years away, the vertical expansion is an important step forward to ensure more New Mexicans can access the unique medical services only available at UNMH.

“We are excited to have the opportunity to add much needed space to our new hospital tower,” says Doug Brooks, executive director of hospital campus development at UNMH. “The pandemic has taught us the true need for expanded health care in our state.”

To learn more about the hospital expansion, visit

Categories: Community Engagement, News You Can Use, Top Stories, UNM Hospital