Tower of power

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:28 pm

The enormous, $182 million, 12-story tall Heart Tower addition to St. Luke’s Medical Center on the south side of Milwaukee will receive its first patient on May 3.
The first surgery is scheduled to take place May 10, wrapping up a one-week transition into the 440,000-square-foot addition. The project marks a significant milestone for Aurora Health Care and St. Luke’s, and it demonstrates the prominence of the cardiac care business in the Milwaukee area.
"We’re very proud of it," said Dennis Potts, vice president of St. Luke’s Medical Center. "The physicians, as well as the staff, are so excited to see this become a reality."
The Heart Tower is equipped with the latest medical technology and has 192 private patient rooms, 78 intensive care unit (ICU) patient rooms and eight operating rooms. Many of the patient rooms have prime views of the downtown Milwaukee skyline or Miller Park.
"I don’t think there’s going to be a patient (at other Milwaukee hospitals) with a better view," Potts said. "That’s got to help you feel better."
With the addition of the Heart Tower, St. Luke’s will have a total of 38 operating rooms.
The ICU patient rooms in the Heart Tower have more space for equipment and family members than the ICUs in other parts of the hospital. They provide more space for medical equipment and room for family members to be with patients, which hospital officials say is a critical part of the healing process.
"In normal-sized ICUs, there’s no room for the patient’s family," said Dr. David Kress, chief of cardiothoracic surgery at St. Luke’s. "We want the family in there."
The other patient rooms in the Heart Tower also have more space because they are private. The Heart Tower will free up space in the rest of the hospital to convert as many of the existing patient rooms into private rooms as possible, hospital officials said.
Many of the innovations in the Heart Tower will improve the efficiency of the hospital’s operations and should speed up the process of evaluating and treating patients, St. Luke’s officials said.
Testing stations on each floor will enable physicians to perform some tests without going all the way to a laboratory.
The hospital will use digital copies of X-rays, CT scans and other images that can be accessed at computers almost anywhere in the Heart Tower, instead of having to fetch a physical copy of the image each time a physician wants to review it.
"In the past, this involved a lot of legwork," said Kress, adding that the improved efficiencies from using digital images will save time and will benefit patients.
"It allows decision-making to occur earlier in the day," Kress said. "Patients get the treatment faster, and they get out of the hospital faster."
The operating rooms are slightly larger than the operating rooms in the rest of the hospital, and they have additional storage space for supplies and equipment to provide more room for physicians to work. Each operating room has a flat-screen monitor to display the patient’s vital signs. All of the equipment is brand new and state-of-the art.
"This is a doctor’s dream," said Kress.
"The patients will receive the best possible care in these (operating) rooms," Potts said.
For the families of patients, the Heart Tower will feature waiting areas, kitchenettes and Internet access in patient rooms .
"Our goal is to make it as comfortable as possible for them while they’re here," Potts said.
"It’s tough on the family members when they have a sick relative in the hospital," Kress said. "It gets to be quite a drag on the family when the surroundings are inhospitable. The living room feel of a waiting area can help a lot."
The Heart Tower will serve more than just cardiac care patients. The private rooms in the tower will accommodate general surgical and medical respiratory ICU patients. The tower also will house a new inpatient oncology unit, which includes bone marrow transplant patient rooms and special rooms for patients undergoing radiation implant therapy.
The architect for the Heart Tower is Kahler Slater Architects, and the general contractor is the Oscar J. Boldt Construction Co.
The Heart Tower is actually a seven-story building built on top of a five-story tall (seven level) parking garage. However, the garage does not support the tower.
Instead, 15 "mega-columns," some built through the parking garage, five stair and elevator towers and some smaller columns support the Heart Tower. The larger columns are 8 feet in diameter and sink 95 feet into the ground, hitting bedrock. The steel columns are filled with concrete and steel reinforcement bars.
"We could actually take down the parking structure and build the (Heart Tower) down," said Dan Morgan, principal and project leader for Kahler Slater. However, Potts said St. Luke’s has no plans to eliminate the parking structure.
The Heart Tower also was designed to avoid any vibration on the operating room floor, Morgan said. Vibrations can cause problems for surgeries.
The north side of the Heart Tower has a concave shape that could someday be enclosed, creating a circular center courtyard, with another tower built the same way but facing south.
"We had to consider the flexibility for future expansion," Morgan said. None of the corridors in the Heart Tower end in a room, ensuring they can be extended.
The patient rooms are built in two triangle-shaped wings to maximize efficiency and place storage in the middle of the triangles to eliminate hall clutter, Morgan said.
St. Luke’s also plans to obtain philanthropic donations to pay for a healing garden at the site, Potts said.
A 1,354-space parking structure is still under construction on the west side of the campus. For years, the St. Luke’s campus has lacked adequate parking, forcing many visitors and employees to park in the surrounding neighborhoods.
Some employees park in a lot at 43rd Street and Lincoln Avenue and are bused to the medical center, but that will end once the parking structure is built, Potts said.
Aurora officials decided to expand on the St. Luke’s campus, rather than build elsewhere, but had to build up because of a lack of open space on the site.
"We do have some campus constraints," Potts said. "(But) we wanted to stay in the community in the general area. We’ve been kind of a stalwart on the south side and wanted to continue that tradition."
St. Luke’s officials say the hospital draws patients from outside the metropolitan Milwaukee area, including western and northern Wisconsin and Northern Illinois.
"It’s the innovation we do here that I think draws the patients," Kress said.
April 30, 2004 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

Get our email updates