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Hospital Building Spree Could Turn Irvine Into Nation’s Next Big Health Brand

In 2008, local philanthropist Diana Sun’s mother had surgery to remove a brain tumor, but it didn’t work. She soon was rushed to Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach, where she had a second brain surgery and spent three-plus weeks recovering.

The Suns thought enough of their experience with Hoag that today, 15 years later, they are donating $50 million toward what will be known as the Sun Family Campus at Hoag Hospital.

But, this time, the Hoag they’re helping to build is in Irvine.

The Suns’ gift is part of the hospital’s $1 billion Irvine expansion, which is slated to open in 2025 and include six buildings, 155 patient beds, eight operating rooms, two procedure rooms and 120,000 square feet of new facilities.

“David and Diana’s investment in Hoag is really driven by their desire to ensure that this level of care remains available to even more residents in Orange County,” said Joanna Kong, executive director of the Sun Family Foundation and David and Diana Sun’s niece.

And Hoag is hardly the only hospital building in the Irvine.

Over the next three to five years, a half-dozen health brands will either expand or break ground in Irvine, creating several million square feet of new hospital and health education space, 350 new care beds, and thousands of high-paying new jobs.

Hoag, City of Hope, UC Irvine, Kaiser Permanente, the Susan Samueli Integrative Health Institute, Memorialcare, BeWell OC — the health entities involved in this health building spree are already known for cancer research, medical training, non-traditional medicine and mental health care. When the expansions and grand openings are done, probably by about 2030 or so, Irvine figures to be known as of the more health-focused communities in the country.

Given the booming healthcare expansions as well as the city’s historic health and biotech presence, Irvine is on track to becoming a national brand in healthcare — a hub of sorts, where all slices of health are concentrated in a single city.

The health push already is sparking subtle changes at City Hall.

Irvine’s City Manager Oliver Chi said staffers have spent the last year figuring out the city’s “proper role in addressing health and wellness related issues,” and some staff roles have been restructured to accommodate new city needs. And when Brian King was hired as assistant city manager, Chi said King was told that one of his primary roles will be “how to mature the city’s health and wellness approach.”

Still, Irvine officials insist the health expansion — while welcome — isn’t coming as a result of tax breaks or other perks. Instead, Irvine Mayor Farrah Khan said it’s based on community basics — good neighborhoods, great schools, close transportation and a well-educated workforce.

And, on that front, Chi echoes Khan, saying none of the the health companies was given a “direct incentive” to expand in Irvine. The draw, he said, is the “totality of what Irvine offers.”

Health Economy

For patients from Orange County — and, soon, perhaps, for patients from around the world — Irvine’s health boom could be a matter of life and death.

Other health-centric development zones — such as the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. and the Texas Medical Center in Houston — have become modern-day Lourdes, destination spots for people seeking care and cures that simply aren’t found elsewhere. That’s largely because those hospitals, and a few others in other parts of the country, are surrounded by satellite companies, specialty health providers and researchers which, in turn, help those areas draw top physicians and scientists.

In Dallas, big players like UT Southwestern, Baylor Scott & White, Texas Health Resources and Tenet Healthcare have made healthcare “one of the (city’s) most important economic sectors,” said Mike Rosa, the senior vice president for economic development at the Dallas Regional Chamber.

And while those health centers serve the needs of local residents, Rosa said they also draw visitors from other states and countries who come to Dallas to partake of the city’s health services.

Rosa likened healthcare in Dallas to manufacturing, an industry that can generate money for other sectors. He said the city’s hospitals and related health centers have been, collectively, an “additive” to the economy, attracting talent, research and, sometimes, other businesses. In 2019, he noted, pharmaceutical giant McKesson moved its headquarters from San Francisco to Las Colinas, a planned community (like Irvine) near Dallas.

The draw from health even has boosted Dallas’ non-health industries. Rosa said telecommunications, software, big data and data analytics have expanded in the city to work with the healthcare sector to support clinical trials and other research. And that, in turn, has allowed Dallas to rise to the level of other life science centers.

Irvine residents stand to gain by the multi-billion-dollar health building boom in their city, too.

In addition to jobs –  more than 500,000 people are employed directly or indirectly in the healthcare space in the Dallas metropolitan area – a healthcare boom could play out as a long-term boost for everything from the regional housing market to local schools.

Data shows that hospitals and healthcare businesses are economic powerhouses. In 2020, 6.3 million people were employed in hospitals nationally. And given a hospital’s purchasing power (hospitals bought more than $1.1 trillion in goods and services from other businesses in 2020) they also bolster jobs in other sectors. Overall, the health sector supports roughly one out of every eight jobs in the U.S.

Lots of Babies

In 2010, when Hoag decided to expand to Irvine, Robert T. Braithwaite, chief executive of Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian, said one goal was to correct what he described as the city’s lack of a comprehensive maternity health service.

A decade later, Hoag opened a 12-bed maternal health unit in Irvine that can handle about 1,600 births a year. Hoag’s current expansion will pitch women’s healthcare, including breast cancer along with obstetrics and gynecology, as a cornerstone.

In all, Hoag’s Irvine and Newport Beach hospitals could see as many as 14,000 births a year, which Braithwaite said would be the most in the state and account for about one in five babies born in Orange County.

The other cornerstone of the new expansion, Braithwaite said, will be a health center dedicated to cancer and digestive conditions.

Braithwaite said most Orange County residents have been traveling outside of the county for certain types of cancer care, so the second big Hoag facility — along with new operations in Irvine from the City of Hope — will provide a level of specialized cancer care that the community has been seeking.

The new Hoag Irvine center also will include an urgent care specially for cancer patients. Braithwaite said that isn’t typical in California, but can be key for cancer patients, whose immune systems often are degraded by chemotherapy and radiation and other treatments.

“The last thing you really want him to do is sit in an emergency room with a population of patients that you don’t know what they have,” he said. “That’s not the ideal location.”

Hoag’s Irvine expansion also will mean employment.

About 8,000 people currently work at Hoag’s hospitals in Newport Beach and Irvine, and the Irvine expansion will mean about 1,000 new jobs. Irvine City Manager Chi said city staff is working with the hospital to figure out a housing plan to help nurses live locally.

Another type of health expansion in Irvine involves education, research and entrepreneurship.

About six miles north of the Hoag Irvine hospital, across UC Irvine’s main campus, crews are in the midst of adding about 2.5 million square feet of medical school, office and research space that Chad T. Lefteris, chief executive of UC Irvine Health, said is known as the “health affairs impact.”

That construction, Lefteris said, includes the $1.3 billion medical complex on Jamboree Road, which will open in three phases with the full hospital opening in 2025. It’ll be an expansion of Orange County’s only medical school, and it will include the nation’s first all-electric hospital. That comes on top of a 9-acre, $185-million health sciences complex that opened last year.

A collaboration between healthcare and the biotech sector, which has boosted Dallas, has been brewing in Irvine for several years — and figures to take off during the health building spree. The Beall Applied Innovation Center, at UCI since 2014, has been helping to boost the county’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, serving as what Lefteris called an “incubation arm to help startup companies get launched.”

The center serves as a business and research conduit that hooks up UCI faculty with startups. Those connections have transformed licensed biomedical discoveries by UCI faculty into biomedical companies.

The Beall center’s role has included helping those companies connect to money from venture capitalist’s and other investors, something Lefteris said brings “startup technologies to life.”

Irvine, Test City

Yet another type of health expansion in Irvine is taking place in the Great Park neighborhood. That’s where Orange County’s only cancer specialty hospital, City of Hope, is building a 164,000-square-foot facility that’s slated to open in 2025 and bring with it about 900 jobs.

The offshoot of the well known City of Hope operations in Duarte also will deliver what hospital officials describe as an unmet need for local, highly specialized cancer care and research.

“In 2017, City of Hope (in Duarte) did more bone marrow transplants – more Orange County bone marrow transplants – than any other provider,” said Annette M. Walker, president of City of Hope Orange County. “So we knew a lot of patients were traveling from Orange County to City of Hope.”

In addition to specialized cancer care, the City of Hope’s Irvine hospital also will host cancer research. Walker said the institution currently has 800 active trials.

One of those trials could soon involve the residents of Irvine. City Manager Chi said Irvine is talking with City of Hope about conducting a “larger scale, community pilot program” to identify new cancer detection techniques.

As Irvine moves to becoming a healthcare hub and the city explores how to realign internal operations to meet this booming industry, Chi said data gathering is already happening.

“We have three surveys currently underway, one addressing health and wellness considerations for children, youth and families, one addressing health and wellness considerations for our senior population. We have a third study underway on identifying social determinants of health in Irvine,” Chi said.

Healthcare, he said, is going to become a bigger part of Irvine’s identity moving forward.

By: OC Register