By Rob Sabo Special to the NNBW
Tuesday, May 3, 2022
The opening on the new Northern Nevada Sierra Medical Campus this April was the culmination of a years-long journey to better meet the healthcare needs of a growing community, the hospital’s chief executive officer said.
Northern Nevada Health System’s Alan Olive told NNBW that the organization’s parent, Universal Health Services, undertook many steps in recent years to boost its healthcare footprint in the region. New facilities include a freestanding emergency room in northwest Reno, a surgical and pain management center at the Quail Medical Park, a primary care clinic opening this June in Damonte Ranch, and additional urgent care or medical facilities scattered throughout Greater Reno-Sparks and in outlying communities such as Fallon, Winnemucca and even Bishop, Calif.
The 300,000-square-foot Sierra Medical Center at Innovation Drive and Longley Lane is the crown jewel of those expansion efforts, though. Currently, the new hospital is using a bit more than 80 percent of its available space – there’s an additional 50,000 square feet of undeveloped shell space for expansion once demand outstrips the current capacity of 170 fully private patient beds.
The hospital also could expand upward in future years by adding two additional floors that would bring its total capacity to around 300 beds within the building’s existing footprint, Olive added. There’s even land available for more expansion, though the organization would need to complete additional studies and secure permitting to exceed its current scope.
“Universal Health Services has been in the region for nearly four decades and has grown with the community,” Olive said. “Our services are all over the market. But we ultimately came to a point where we and the providers in the market recognized that we needed to expand as the community continued growing.”
The Path to Building a New Hospital
Northern Nevada Health System engaged several outside agencies, including the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada’s Economic Planning Indicators Committee (EPIC) report, University of Nevada, Reno, and analytics and demographics research firm Applied Analysis of Las Vegas. The data all validated the need for expanded healthcare options in Greater Reno-Sparks, Olive said.
“It definitely showed we are on a high-growth trajectory,” he said. “Based on that data, Northern Nevada Health System began acquiring land for new facilities.”
Acquisitions include additional land next to Northern Nevada Medical Center in Sparks for a future expansion of that facility. Sierra Medical Campus, meanwhile, broke ground on 22 acres in early 2019 – just as COVID-19 hit the U.S. Despite the pandemic, the hospital was completed in just over two years. SR Construction of Las Vegas was the general contractor on the project, with nearly all the project’s subcontractors hailing from Northern Nevada, Olive noted.
The supply chain issues that have affected construction projects across the nation had little effect on Sierra Medical Center, he added.
“Right when we broke ground the pandemic started to bubble up and led to supply chain concerns,” Olive said. “However, we mapped out the supply chain for critical infrastructure, such as steel. Our steel was delivered from Utah, and we were able to get materials on time. We were able to lock in the supply chain before the U.S. economy changed.”
Buildout of Sierra Medical Center created about 1,500 construction jobs, Olive added.
Hiring and Staffing
A full-service hospital requires a large headcount – and there’s no large pool of highly trained medical providers and nursing staff from which to pull in Northern Nevada.
However, people near and far were eager to work at the new hospital, Olive said.
“Our parent corporation, Universal Health Services, was really focused on delivering the resources needed to get the materials and people to build the facility,” he said. “We received a huge response from all over the nation and also locally, and because of that response we were able to staff to the needs of opening the hospital.
“We will have to recruit more (staff) as we grow, but we received a tremendous response from very experienced leaders, nurses, technicians and therapists – it was really remarkable to see that outpouring.”
Currently, Sierra Medical Center employs around 540 full-time, part-time and per-diem staff. Total staffing will depend on how many hospital beds are occupied, Olive said, but it eventually could reach upward of 1,200 employees.
Some services, such as neonatal care, must start at a tier-1 well-baby care level even though the hospital’s staff are trained for the highest level of neonatal care, Olive noted. Additionally, other services, such as open-heart surgery, are still in the ramp-up phase, he said.
Each of the hospital’s rooms were designed as universal intensive care unit rooms, which provides flexibility if the community experiences another crisis such as the pandemic, which strained existing hospital facilities in the region and across the nation, Olive said.
Steel is currently going up for a 90,000-square-foot medical building that will house advanced cardiac services and cardiac rehab, pulmonary critical care and pulmonary rehab, wound care and a variety of other services. A women’s health institute also will be located in that building, along with family nutrition, nursing and community navigators to help patients with chronic issues navigate the Northern Nevada Health System, Olive said.
A similar medical office will eventually be located adjacent to the first one, with a parking garage sandwiched in between the two structures when demand warrants its construction.
“When we look back at this, we built a hospital during a pandemic, worked through the worst supply chain issues in our nation’s history, and worked through the worst staffing crisis in our nation’s history. To be able to open on time is just incredible,” Olive said.
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