University of Nebraska Medical Center and Nebraska Medicine officials said Thursday that they’re in the early stages of developing plans that would propel clinical care and research to the next level with the construction of a new state-of-the-art facility.

The project could consist of several buildings to be constructed on the northwest corner of the medical center campus, the leaders said at a press conference. Those buildings could include one or more new towers for research and inpatient care.

Early estimates project costs between $1 billion and $2 billion.

But UNMC Chancellor Dr. Jeffrey Gold, who briefed the NU Board of Regents on Thursday, stressed that the plans are in very preliminary stages. No final planning has been completed.

“We are just setting the stage at this time,” he said.

The facilities would be intended not only to expand the medical center’s capacity to care for patients, educate the next generation of health care providers and conduct research but also to replace older facilities — some up to 70 years old — and transform the delivery of care, Gold said.

In recent years, the medical center has worked with the federal government on biocontainment efforts, including caring for patients with Ebola and training first responders.

Over that same time, Gold said, governments at all levels have become increasingly aware of a variety of potential hazards they face from natural and human-caused disasters.

The medical center could be a partner in an all-hazards center that would be a destination for patients caught up in local, regional and national disasters.

The medical center’s history of public-private partnerships, including with the federal government, Gold said, has “produced a unique opportunity for us.”

In an interview, he said creating such a center could repurpose some beds for disaster victims but would not decrease the capacity of the Nebraska Medical Center or UNMC to deliver care to the community.

Architectural renderings and program specifics for the project are not yet available.

Dr. James Linder, Nebraska Medicine’s CEO, said the health system doesn’t believe that its current facilities are large enough to provide the care Nebraskans need, particularly as the population ages.

New facilities would also allow the health system to take full advantage of new technologies such as telehealth, which stand to improve outreach across the state while lowering operating costs.

Stanford University, for instance, just opened a new hospital with new technology that reimagines care for patients, and other such facilities are also being designed or built.

Linder noted that the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center was built through a public-private partnership and created a model that combines cancer care and research in one building.

“Our ability to do that should not be limited to cancer care,” he said.

Linder said the medical center will have about seven acres, plus some additional ground, available once the Munroe-Meyer Institute relocates to Aksarben Village.

That would allow the partners to proceed with construction without interfering with patient care in its existing hospital towers, he said. It would take until early 2021 to access that land.

The medical center has also acquired land — about 28 acres — on the west side of Saddle Creek Road that could host ancillary services such as parking, hotels and light retail.

When asked where the $1 billion to $2 billion to finance such a project would come from, Linder said that would depend on how partnerships materialize over time.

Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert said UNMC “is recognized as a leader in essential patient care, health education and medical research.”

“UNMC’s growth has created exceptional employment and development in midtown,” she said. “The city is proud and excited to support continued campus growth and the opportunity to expand UNMC’s role in the treatment of infectious diseases and other biological hazards.”

UNMC and Nebraska Medicine have had an increasing role as a collaborator with federal agencies.

UNMC has already begun training federal workers in a new training, simulation and quarantine center on campus. The National Center for Health Security and Biopreparedness, in the new $121.8 million Davis Global Center for Advanced Interprofessional Learning, was funded in part by a $19.8 million federal grant.

In 2018, Nebraska Medicine was one of two health centers nationwide to receive a $3 million federal grant for a pilot project demonstrating how a regional response system could work in a disaster large enough to overwhelm local hospitals. The other was Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and partner Harvard Medical School.

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Julie Anderson is a medical reporter for The World-Herald. She covers health care and health care trends and developments, including hospitals, research and treatments. Follow her on Twitter @JulieAnderson41. Phone: 402-444-1066.

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