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Billions In Play In North Texas Hospital Building Boom

UT Southwestern Medical Center
The $800 million UT Southwestern Clements Hospital is just one of many new health care construction projects in North Texas.

The new $1.3 billion Parkland hospital is just the tip of the iceberg. Hospital construction has reached unprecedented levels in North Texas.

The Dallas medical district now has a skyline of its own.

The new Parkland Memorial Hospital and UT Southwestern’s William P. Clements Jr. University Hospital are the latest projects in a health care building boom that’s not projected to slow down any time soon.

Both projects are big – the new Parkland is more than 2 million square feet and Clements is 1.3 million square feet – and high tech.

A Glimpse Inside The Boom

At UT Southwestern’s new $800 million hospital, you’ll find the latest in medical diagnostic equipment, private rooms with switchable privacy glass, and a tricked out laundry chute.

“It’s pretty cool,” says Dr. John Warner, CEO of UT Southwestern University Hospitals. “Its 60 miles per hour it takes trash and linen out of the hospital right away.”

The tube system helps with a more efficient and sanitary removal of trash and linens — without transporting the used material through patient hallways.

“Because the longer things that are dirty stay in the hospital the higher the risk of infection,” Warner says.

What he’s most excited about at Clements though is the video conferencing technology – both in patient’s rooms and operating rooms.

“So if you’re in a case and you have an unexpected finding,” Warner says “And you need to talk to a pathologist, they come right on screen, they have a TV studio in in the laboratory.”

The new Parkland Hospital may not be seeing patients just yet, but you can get a sneak tour online.","_id":"00000174-20dc-d47e-a1f7-72fd8bc10000","_type":"035d81d3-5be2-3ed2-bc8a-6da208e0d9e2"}">" target="_blank" title="Share link">","_id":"00000174-20dc-d47e-a1f7-72fd8bc10000","_type":"035d81d3-5be2-3ed2-bc8a-6da208e0d9e2"}">

More than 30,000 people a day are expected to come through the front doors of Parkland. The hospital has 862 beds, parking for 2,000 vehicles, a central energy plant and two helistops.

When you take into account construction across North Texas, at places like Baylor Health Care System, Texas Health Resources, John Peter Smith and Cook Children’s – the billions begin to add up fast.


What’s Fueling The Growth?

The health care building trend is national, but spending in the state of Texas stands out.

“If I were a contractor, I’d wake up every morning and thank god for the healthcare business,” says Allan Baumgarten. Baumgarten is an independent analyst on health policy and finance

“Texas is among the leading states in terms of investment being made in new facilities,” he says.

So what’s behind the growth?

The population boom and aging baby boomers, combined with low building costs and competition. Richard Kurz, dean of the School of Public Health at UNT’s Health Science Center, says all the health care players are trying to capture the flag in new territories.

“The hospital systems have figured out that you’ve got to be first in the market,” he says. “So that’s what they do.”

The expansion is both in cities, and Texas suburbs.

You have [Texas Health Resources] developing hospital facilities in areas like Azle, and Alliance. The Baylor operation has done the same thing in Plano,” Kurz says, “And the Lake Forest private physicians are doing it in Frisco.”

Behind the shiny new hospitals the surgical and urgent care centers is a common goal:

Please the patient, get the reimbursement.

“As a result of the Affordable Care Act,” analyst Alan Baumgarten says, “there’s a lot more emphasis on linking payment to providers to measures of patient safety and patient satisfaction.”

Hence the single rooms that look like spas, and latest cleaning technology.

Who’s This Good For?

“To the extent that you have better access geographically to high quality care, that’s a benefit to the people in the community,” Baumgarten says.

But, the health care building boom comes with costs.

“I think many employers in Texas and around the country are seeing increases in the prices being charged to them by hospitals because they’re making these investments and these investments have to be paid for,” he says.

In fact, North Texas hospitals charge private insurance providers some of the highest rates for procedures in the country, according to a new report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

Richard Kurz with the UNT Health Science Center says what’s missing from the health care building boom that could help lower costs is investment in primary care.

“Primary care is really where you can control costs,” Kurz says. “We really need these new models of primary care to make sure that we’re reaching those folks now before they get really sick and then they get in hospital and emergency rooms.”

Lauren Silverman was the Health, Science & Technology reporter/blogger at KERA News. She was also the primary backup host for KERA’s Think and the statewide newsmagazine  Texas Standard. In 2016, Lauren was recognized as Texas Health Journalist of the Year by the Texas Medical Association. She was part of the Peabody Award-winning team that covered Ebola for NPR in 2014. She also hosted "Surviving Ebola," a special that won Best Long Documentary honors from the Public Radio News Directors Inc. (PRNDI). And she's won a number of regional awards, including an honorable mention for Edward R. Murrow award (for her project “The Broken Hip”), as well as the Texas Veterans Commission’s Excellence in Media Awards in the radio category.