After years of construction and anticipation, the billion-dollar University Medical Center is ready for what some may call its biggest step of all.
"We're ready for patients,” said Siona LaFrance, Director of Marketing and Public Affairs at UMC New Orleans.
Come Saturday, about 200 patients who are now being cared for in the Interim LSU Hospital on Perdido Street will be transported to mammoth UMC New Orleans located just blocks away on Tulane Avenue and Canal Street.
"We're going to do it very early in the morning. We've got an ambulance company that's been working with us, and they're going to help move, and we've got hundreds of employees who are going to be carefully moving the patients and getting them settled into their new rooms here,” LaFrance said.
Every inch of the vast facility with three in-patient towers is modern. The Emergency Department will be fully operational on Saturday, as well.
"Our teams, our physicians, our nurses all are at the ready for whatever comes our way. We're the only Level 1 Trauma Center in the region, and this is what they do,” LaFrance said.
However, clinic services, which are currently scattered throughout the city, will not begin at UMC until Aug. 10.
"What's great for our patients is that we're going to be in one location,” said LaFrance.
"Two-point-three million square feet, beautifully built-out, a total kind of facility for tomorrow. It was very exciting, and really kind of surreal,” said Michael Hecht, President and CEO of GNO Inc.
The new medical complex will become part of Hecht’s talking points as he continues to work to attract more business investment to the New Orleans area.
"First of all, having a facility like this that's clearly world-class is going to make a statement about this city and the region as a whole, kind of like what the airport is going to do. But then in and of itself it's probably our single biggest economic opportunity over the next decade,” he said.
Like the old Charity Hospital that was shuttered after Hurricane Katrina, UMC New Orleans will care for the indigent and uninsured, but the business model anticipates insured patients, as well.
The hospital portion of the complex is named for civil rights icon the late Rev. Avery C. Alexander. It has 446 in-patient beds, an atrium with a colorful sculpture hanging from the ceiling, and between the three towers there are tranquil gardens with flowing water.
Hecht said it's important that UMC New Orleans become a destination medical center for people from all over.
"In the same way that if you have an issue with cancer you're likely to go to Houston for medical care, we have to become that for something else, for example for memory care. In terms of the physical build-out, we're as good as anyone. The real question now is can we activate it so we become an economic engine like MD Anderson is for Houston,” Hecht said.
Still, he said without a doubt UMC is a great addition to the continued progress in the city.
“It's the economic development and really the property development around it, really the entire spine, I guess you could say of the city is being healed. It's Tulane, it's Canal, it's Poydras from the river all the way to Mid-City, and it's the medical complex that really is stabilizing and driving development both ways,” Hecht said.
LaFrance said on Aug. 25, there will be an official ceremony marking the opening of the medical complex.