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Highland Hospital breaks ground for new Acute Tower

on June 4, 2011

On Friday, all five Alameda County supervisors and the county administrator convened, not in their downtown meeting room, but beside a construction site at Highland Hospital to celebrate the groundbreaking of the hospital’s Acute Tower Replacement Project. A dozen ceremonial shovels were placed next to the podium, while several excavators were doing the real work on the other side of the fence.

The replacement project, which meant to rebuild the hospital’s main facilities to comply with the state’s seismic safety laws, will cost $668 million, making it the most expensive construction project ever undertaken by Alameda County.

“The city and county did the Oakland Coliseum—that was hundreds of millions of dollars,” said Nate Miley, president of the county board of supervisors. “But this makes that project pale in comparison.”

Highland Hospital, owned by the county and operated by the Alameda County Medical Center (ACMC), treats most of the county’s indigent patients and operates one of the busiest emergency rooms in the region with more than 85,000 visits a year. It’s also the only Level Two trauma center serving Oakland and other northern Alameda County communities, providing urgent care for patients with any type of injuries around the clock. According to the latest figures, more than 2,500 trauma patients received treatment in the hospital in 2009.

But according to the project’s website, the current Acute Tower, built in 1950s, doesn’t comply with the Alfred E. Alquist Hospital Facilities Seismic Safety Act of 1983, which establishes a seismic safety building standards program for hospitals built on or after March 7, 1973. The deadline to replace the facility, under Senate Bill 306, is January 1, 2020.

Phase One, the construction of a three-story medical office building, started last October.

The project includes three overlapping phases. The first phase, or the construction of a 78,000 square-foot, three-story medical office building and its affiliated parking garage, started last October. The second phase—the actual construction of a new Acute Tower—is being carried out this year and will be completed in early 2016. The demolition of the existing tower and site improvements, or the last phase, will begin in 2016 and take two years to finish.

The new nine-story, 169-bed tower will provide better service for the hospital’s cancer patients and those with significant cardiac diseases, said Wright Lassiter, CEO of the ACMC. In addition, Lassiter said, the new facility will enable the hospital to manage chronic diseases more effectively and provide care for more inpatients. “We expect that anyone who comes to our facility, irrespective of what’s in their wallet, can have the absolute best,” Lassiter said.

“It’s a commitment to a long term project that provides jobs and contracts for our residents and businesses during this long economic recovery,” said County Administrator Susan Muranishi, who added that the project planners are communicating “early and often” with the hospital’s neighbors about the project’s noise, lights and dust.

Careful timing and arrangement during the construction will make sure that the hospital will continue its service without interruption, said Aki Nakao, director of Alameda County’s General Services Agency. “It’s mapped into our designs, ” he said.

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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