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The plan to replace the IU Health Bloomington hospital has been in the works for more than 15 years. The decision to seize a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity came much more recently.
The result? A pivot in location, scale and mission that has taken tangible form in the new IU Regional Academic Health Center (RAHC), the Indiana University-IU Health collaboration that’s currently getting its final touches on Bloomington’s northeast side.
“The IU and IU Health partnership truly gives us the ability to transform the delivery of healthcare,” says IU Health South Central Region President Brian Shockney. “It was like putting a stake in the ground and saying, ‘We can do something truly extraordinary.’”
That something extraordinary is the RAHC, which provides the south central region with a state-of-the-art hospital alongside a cutting-edge medical education and training complex. Virtually all of IU’s academic health science programs — including medicine, nursing, social work, as well as speech and hearing — took up residency in the recently completed 115,000-square-foot IU Academic Health Science Building a few months ago. Later this year, the adjacent 695,000-square-foot hospital will open to provide care to the nearly half-million residents in its service area.
The plan for the new facility started with recognition that Bloomington Hospital was outgrowing the Second Street property where it has been located for more than a century. With no room for expansion and modernization, the hospital’s leaders started the process of planning to build a new facility off Curry Pike. As conversations progressed, however, the opportunity for a tighter collaboration between IU Health and IU became clear, and the project’s ambitions ratcheted up considerably, leading to a new location on property already owned by IU.
At the heart of those bigger ambitions was a recognition that Indiana desperately needs the best healthcare possible. Shockney notes that the state is one of the worst in the nation — often ranked 40th or below — in terms of health indicators. As an organization committed to making Indiana one of the healthiest states in the nation, IU Health sees the new facility as an opportunity to make considerable progress, Shockney says.
In this case, making progress means creating a facility that is informed by the latest advancements in healthcare design, including lessons learned from the global COVID-19 pandemic. All patient rooms will be private and designed to support a wide range of patient needs. Care spaces will be flexible, able to pivot to accommodate immediate needs, looming demands or changes in healthcare delivery. Additional space is available to accommodate the increasing demand for mental health services. The Emergency Department — where, as Shockney points out, a great number of hospital admissions begin — will offer twice as many beds as the old Bloomington hospital, with increased flexibility and space for delivering post-care observation without an in-patient admission, reducing in-patient hospital costs for patient families.
At the same time, the facility will strengthen healthcare education by providing space for collaboration and coordination of care and teaching. The academic component of the facility is also focused on the future, with capacity for a much larger student enrollment than the programs have seen in the past —the nursing program alone is anticipating an increase of 100 percent in the coming years, Shockney notes — and close association with IU’s high-tech programs, such as the IU Luddy School of Informatics, Computing and Engineering.
A key component of this academic-healing collaboration is the area of the new complex that team members have dubbed “The Connector.” The space, which connects the academic building and the hospital, houses the complex’s sole cafeteria and other areas that will draw people from both sides of the facility into the same space. To further drive this connection, the RAHC was designed with few conference rooms, and the academic side of the building has few real-life clinical training spaces, which means students will frequently come to the hospital side for clinical experiences.
Patients who are admitted into the hospital will find themselves relocating much less often than is typical in American healthcare. While many hospitals move patients from room to room as their level of needed care changes, the new hospital reduces patient movement by providing more resources in every room and training staff to handle varying levels of care. The result? Better experiences for the patient, more efficient use of resources, decreased length of stay and increased patient safety.
To highlight some of the ways the new facility will transform the patient experience, Shockney points to care for cancer patients. The new cancer center will have a dedicated entrance for easy access to 29 state-of-the-art infusion bays designed to increase comfort for patients undergoing chemotherapy and complemented by six private infusion rooms for times when isolation is essential. A healing garden will offer patients and their families space for reflection and to enjoy the outdoors. Oncology radiation therapy facilities will be added at a future date.
Because cancer care and treatment is such a universal experience — “Cancer has touched everyone,” Shockney says — it has also been a focus of fundraising efforts for the RAHC. Raising funds to meet the cost of the cancer center has underscored for Shockney the generosity of the community and the willingness of donors to engage in the effort themselves.
In fact, as Shockney has gone out to talk about the cancer center, he often has found himself stepping back during conversation as donors step up to tell their own stories. “I didn’t have to tell the story anymore,” he says. “They’d be able to personalize the story with their own loved one. That’s how I knew we were on the right path.”
During those conversations, Shockney says, he often explains to people that supporting the RAHC is a way to participate in what is literally a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. New hospitals don’t get built often, he says, and that means the chance to transform healthcare in this way likely won’t come around again for another century.
At the same time, it should be noted that this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity is not a singular event. The new hospital is designed to evolve and expand with changes in healthcare, providing the south central region with a facility that is not only designed to represent the best of this moment in healthcare, but one that will define the best of the future in healthcare.
If you are interested in learning how you can impact care in southern Indiana, contact IU Health Foundation Director South Central Region Diane Buzzell at firstname.lastname@example.org or IU Health Senior Development Officer Emily Trinkle at email@example.com.