Girders, cranes, and concrete are a familiar sight around UAB, especially now with three new construction projects underway on the medical side alone.
Perhaps the most high-tech of the new facilities is Proton International at UAB, the first of its kind in Alabama. Advanced proton therapy is available at only 25 locations in the U.S., most of them affiliated with academic medical centers. Experts estimate that over 250,000 cancer patients nationwide could benefit from proton therapy.
The new oncology treatment system, whose photon beams are more precise than traditional X-ray radiation, delivers a more exact dose of radiation to attack tumors and is superior at avoiding damage to the healthy surrounding tissue.
Proton International will be housed in a three-story building on 20th Street South. The UAB center will be the company's fourth project in the United States.
The cyclotron, which accelerates protons for the system, weighs some 90 tons. A helium-controlled magnet will be used to cool it to a temperature of minus 425 degrees. The UAB facility is expected to go into operation in 2020, with UAB participating in the first clinical trials.
UAB is also building a new freestanding emergency department with an adjacent medical office building in Gardendale. The 6.2-acre complex, located on Mount Olive Parkway, is set for completion in spring 2019.
The 26,700-square-foot ER, capable of performing trauma care, will provide around-the-clock emergency services with an FAA-compliant heliport, 12 exam rooms, advanced MRI/CT/X-ray imaging, a bariatric lift, laboratory services, and a pharmacy.
The two-story medical office building, at 38,400 square feet, will offer primary care as well as obstetrics, orthopedics, cardiology, neurology, neurosurgery, gastrointestinal care, ophthalmology and specialty care programs. Combined, the two medical facilities will employ more than 100 people.
"The trend of outreach and expansion is beneficial for a number of reasons," says Will Ferniany, PhD, CEO of the UAB Health System. "As a growing number of baby boomers are moving to ambulatory settings, we need to get our services closer to the people we're trying to serve.
"UAB is the tertiary referral center for Alabama. We're at 1,157 beds, 19th largest in the country, and we're full. We need to have our beds available for people who need higher-level tertiary care, so helping keep people in local and community hospitals allows us to have room for trauma, stroke, brain surgery, and all the other specialty services we offer."
Another current project is the renovation and expansion of UAB's School of Nursing. Doreen Harper, Dean and Fay B. Ireland Endowed Chair in Nursing, says the 72,000-square-foot, $33 million project will offer much-needed space as well as incorporating the latest technology into the teaching process.
"We're creating a facility that will allow us to live, work, learn, and discover new knowledge," Harper says, "as well as how to teach in innovative, hands-on ways.
"We're recognized as a national center for excellence by the National League for Nursing because of our innovation and flexibility in academic programs, and the way we engage students in our teaching and their outcome. This will allow us to engage students at an even greater level."
Especially important, says Harper, is the ability to expand space for practice and notably the school's high-fidelity clinical simulation technology. These features are part of the Nursing Competency Suite, which includes labs for simulating a pediatric room, a mother/baby room, an ER/ICU unit, a hospital long-term care room, an operating room, a home health room, a nurses' station, and more.
"The idea is that the rooms are all adjacent and are really run like a hospital unit so we can actually simulate a 24-hour-day with students and faculty leading it," Harper says. "Even though the patients are computerized they're very lifelike, so you can see and control the interaction and allow for much more collaboration.
"We've structured the facility so that we can work across the entire building, which gives researchers the opportunity to engage with patients across the entire state and region with telehealth suites that expand the building into the community.
"This building is going to change the way we live and work together and discover in education," Harper says. "I think it's a bright future for the next generation of nurses as we produce the best clinicians, the best scientists, and the best leaders in the country."