(photo by Brandon Wise)

MID-CITY — The brass of the UCLA Medical System convened Friday to dedicate its newest state-of-the-art hospital in Santa Monica, closing the books on a project 16 years in the making.

The dedication healed the scar created by the 1994 Northridge earthquake, a natural disaster that left an indelible mark on much of Santa Monica.

It’s been a long time coming, particularly for staff who have watched it grow from the planning stages to completion.

“It’s like when you’re a kid in fourth grade, and you think, you’re never going to get there, it’s never going to be like that,” said Posie Carpenter, the new facility’s chief administrative officer. “We brought this project together piece by piece.”

The $572 million hospital is composed of five interconnected buildings that will house 266 patient beds, an emergency center, rape treatment center, birthing unit, operating rooms and intensive care units for both children and adults.

It will be a major player in the field of pediatrics and orthopedics, particularly with its partnership with the Orthopedic Hospital, said Dr. David Feinberg, president and CEO of the UCLA Health System.

While the Ronald Reagan hospital a few miles away in Westwood will continue to handle the most complicated pediatrics cases, the UCLA-Santa Monica campus will be able to treat everything else, and will be the only pediatrics-certified emergency room in the area.

Additionally, the hospital will have a more targeted teaching focus. A 90-seat auditorium is wired to allow students and residents to observe procedures taking place elsewhere in the facility. It will also host community-focused health talks that the system now holds at the Santa Monica Main Library and other locations.

The combination of education and specialized medicine will help the system continue its record of achieving major medical breakthroughs, like its leading treatment for breast cancer, herceptin.

“The UCLA Health System has a commitment to heal mankind, one patient at a time,” Feinberg said. “This really allows us to take that purpose even further.”

Its history in mind, the new buildings have been built to withstand up to an 8.4 earthquake, and outfitted with redundant power supplies to ensure that the hospital will be fully functional in the face of another disaster.

Each department has been brought online in a piecemeal fashion as construction continued, ensuring that there would always be a functioning hospital, Carpenter said.

“That’s the other piece that has really contributed to the long duration of the program,” Carpenter said. “We’ve been maintaining an operating hospital as we built around it.”

A testament to that is the nine-story tower that juts out of the center of the new facilities, which were built in a horseshoe around it. In January 2012, the last patients will be moved out of the tower into the new hospital, and then the old tower will be carefully removed, brick by brick.

When that process is completed, a garden will take its place, fulfilling the promise that 25 percent of the campus will be dedicated to green space.

It has taken over a decade to get the new hospital up and running. Workers are still putting the finishing touches on it, like a security room in the lobby and paneling in the elevators, but what is in place feels more like a hotel than a hospital.

That was the effect that the designer, Robert A.M. Stern Architects, was going for. In a twist on traditional thinking, the architects took a page from the hospitality industry and turned the sterile hospital environment into something more like home.

“They believed we could have a healing, comfortable environment,” Carpenter said.

The hospital has evolved both in design and functionality over its 85 years in the Santa Monica community, but it hasn’t lost its roots. Every brick is UCLA brick, a color made by only one man (“It slows down the building when he goes on vacation,” Feinberg joked) and even the motor court has tiles depicting iconic parts of Santa Monica.

At the dedication, UCLA Chancellor Gene Block summed up the hopes and intentions that all involved have for the center.

“This will be a pillar of the Santa Monica community and the UCLA Health System,” he said.


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