Facility is the biggest upgrade that the South Bay facility has seen since opening in 1975
Usually, the best views go to those who pay the most, but that’s not the case for the new Ocean View Tower at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center.
Situated atop a hill roughly five miles from the coast, the new structure’s upper floors offer sweeping views in nearly every direction, putting the Coronado islands, international border, downtown San Diego or inland mountain ranges on the horizon, depending on which point of the compass visitors face.
It’s possible to see the farthest from the seventh floor, the highest anyone can go without roof access. The seventh, though, is not reserved for patients and medical providers but is instead entirely occupied by a cafe and dining room with floor-to-ceiling windows and a large outdoor balcony that faces northwest toward downtown, offering abundant sunlight and million-dollar perspectives to visitors and employees alike.
A similar focus on letting in natural light is present in waiting rooms that lead to each patient floor and in patient rooms which feature large windows facing either southwest toward the ocean and the border or northeast toward the mountains. The set-up was striking enough to earn project of the year honors in November from the Design Build Institute of America.
Due to open for patients on Jan. 14, the $244 million tower, which broke ground in 2016, is the largest single upgrade made to the Sharp Chula Vista campus since it opened in 1975. Taken together with emergency room upgrades and opening of the Douglas & Nancy Barnhart Cancer Center in 2012, Sharp has now invested $300 million in its South Bay complex, making it by far the largest collection of medical infrastructure south of San Diego.
The tower, which was built by general contractor Hensel Phelps and designed by SmithGroup, an international architecture firm, has 106 private patient rooms on its third, fourth and fifth floors with shelled space on the sixth capable of accommodating an additional 32 rooms in the future. Existing hospital buildings have a 343-bed capacity, but many are in rooms that house more than one patient. After the new tower opens, Sharp will begin converting its existing patient rooms to single occupancy where possible.
It is a particularly heady moment for Pablo Velez, Sharp Chula Vista’s chief executive officer. Having walked the facility’s halls for the past 23 years, first as a nursing manager before earning his current position, Velez said he has had plenty of time to envision every little detail of what the new tower would be like. To see that vision made real, he said, is pure joy.
“This building is going to serve our community for multiple generations, and you really only get to experience something like this once in your career if you’re lucky,” Velez said. “We put a lot of effort and a lot of thought into every part of this project, and I think it’s going to be something that the community really appreciates for a long, long time.”
As has been the trend in every new hospital built in San Diego County over the past decade, the Ocean View Tower increases the square footage of pretty much every space, but especially patient rooms, which are large enough for visiting family members to stay over when loved ones are admitted for care.
Infection control has also been central to recent hospital design, and that is definitely the case in Sharp Chula Vista’s new spaces. Special elevator systems are in place to serve six new and extremely-spacious operating rooms that keep clean, dirty and sterilized streams of equipment physically separate. And there are hand-washing stations just inside patient rooms, making it easier for busy nurses to quickly wash their hands in-between patients.
Private rather than shared rooms also help with infection control as does modern heating and air conditioning design that makes it harder for airborne germs to travel from one patient to another.
Ten new surgical intensive care rooms, each private with its own bathroom, are situated on the second floor, as close as possible to the new operating suites. They are a huge upgrade over the hospital’s current surgical intensive care unit which follows an open ward design where beds are separated by curtains rather than walls.
Preparing on a recent morning for the state inspections that must be passed before the tower can open for patients, Eloisa Salinas, an ICU nurse who has worked at Sharp Chula Vista for nearly 40 years, said she is most excited about the sheer square footage of these new spaces and the privacy that they offer to patients. It’s simply less stressful, she said, to work in a space where it’s not necessary to jockey around equipment to do what’s necessary at the bedside.
“Now we will have the luxury of moving around our patients,” Salinas said. “When you have more room to move, as a nurse, you’re more calm, and when you’re more calm, the patient is more calm.”
The public is invited to tour the new tower during a free open house on Saturday, Jan. 11, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sharp has a special website available with more information.