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Safety Upgrade Spurs Hospital Construction

If a 9.0 magnitude earthquake were to hit the Bay Area tomorrow, Bob Norris knows he can count on his team at Stanford Hospital's emergency department to provide state-of-the-art trauma care. He's less sure about the capacity of the University's hospital building, built in the late 1950s. Even on ordinary days, Norris's E.R. is packed, “often full to the point that the unit has to go on 'closed' status, which means that ambulances are diverted to other hospitals,” the division chief laments. “This is not a situation that anyone likes, least of all the doctors and nurses.”

To ease the overcrowding and bring the entire hospital up to state-mandated earthquake safety codes by 2015, Stanford has submitted an ambitious proposal to the City of Palo Alto to build a new 600-bed main hospital, up from 456 beds now. In addition to tripling the size of the emergency department, the plan promises a more inviting entryway, improved parking, leading-edge operating rooms and imaging facilities, more dining options and more comfortable patient and waiting rooms. The proposal also includes a 104-bed addition to Lucile Packard Children's Hospital next door, as well as plans for replacing aging Med School laboratories and renovating the historic Hoover Pavilion for use by community physicians.

At 1.3 million net additional square feet of construction, the hospital project is the single most complex redevelopment proposal ever to come before the City of Palo Alto, which has regulatory influence over that part of the campus. Preliminary models suggest a series of linked square hospital pavilions, up to seven stories each, with floor plans that easily can be reconfigured in the future as technologies and patient needs change. “Here at Stanford we actually have land and are in a suburban setting, so it allows the potential for developing a medical center that's unlike any other in the top-20 honors hospital group,” says George Tingwald, director of medical planning for the renewal project. “We thought it was critically important not only to further the uniqueness of Stanford, but also to play off the wonders of our environment and our weather.”

Tingwald, who holds degrees in both medicine and architecture, says the horizontal elements of the proposed design would allow for extensive landscaped courtyards, an abundance of light-filled, single-patient rooms, and easy-to-navigate peripheral corridors, while the vertical aspects would make it easier for orderlies to transport patients between departments, using elevators instead of long corridors. As he explains, “We don't want to lose the advantages of a [traditional urban] stacked hospital, which has really clear pathways, from the heliports down through to the emergency room, imaging department and operating rooms.”

During the next year or two, Stanford planners will be working closely with the city to address concerns about traffic and other possible environmental impacts. Phased construction is scheduled to begin in 2010.

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