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UCI Health prepares to open the nation’s first all-electric medical campus

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As a heightened sustainability model, UCI Health is set to open the nation’s first all-electric hospital in 2025 with plans to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. 

The Irvine Campus Medical Complex project (ICMC) is currently under construction at the north end of the UC Irvine campus. The 350,000-square-foot hospital will boast seven stories, 144 inpatient beds and an ambulatory care center. The hospital broke ground in November 2021, following approval by the UC Board of Regents earlier that year. 

In an interview with New University, UCI Health facilities and general services director Joe Brothman said discussions regarding the new hospital date to before the COVID-19 pandemic in 2018.

“There was lots of work done before groundbreaking, primarily done with our planning, design and construction team with our executive leadership,” Brothman said. “There was a lot of deliberation for the location and services being provided.”

The $1.3 billion electricity-powered medical center features the Joe C. Wen & Family UCI Health Center for Advanced Care — a five-story, 168,000-square-foot outpatient facility housing UCI Health Center for Autism & Neurodevelopmental Disorders, which opened its doors on May 1. 

Later this year, the Irvine Campus Medical Complex will also become home to the 193,000-square-foot, four-floor Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center and Ambulatory Care building, featuring a women’s health center and infusion center. 

The medical facility centers will power entirely on renewable electricity but include diesel generators in case of a power failure. Brothman explained sustainability goals as the rationale behind going electric.

“The University of California has very robust sustainability initiatives. Our overall goal for the University system is 2050 carbon neutrality,” Brothman said.

In a 2019 report by Health Care Without Harm (HCWH), the global healthcare industry accounts for approximately 4.4% of worldwide net emissions, or about 2 gigatons of carbon dioxide annually. The United States contributes most to the global healthcare climate footprint, producing 546 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, a measurement of greenhouse gasses and their impact. 

Brothman also explained that there are many functional benefits to going electric. For example, traditional hospitals, such as the existing UCI Medical Center in Orange, function with a distributive steam network which can often become faulty. 

“Steam lines are very hot, so a lot of times we have steam ruptures that will melt our asphalt and create sinkholes,” Brothman said.

With a single piped steam line running throughout the hospital, there is a “single point of failure system,” which proves inefficient in the face of a rupture or natural disaster, as explained by Brothman. 

The decision to go electric, according to Brothman, was not only a practical one but a cost-feasible one given the hospital’s location and climate. Costs of carbon fuels continue to fluctuate and increase in price. An electric-powered medical campus, unaffected by potential changes in carbon fuel costs, ultimately provides more financial reliability.

“Electrification is the first step to being able to choose your sustainability initiatives, and getting to a place where you are not bound to carbon-based fuels,” Brothman said.

Victoria Le is a Campus News Apprentice. She can be reached at victotl5@uci.edu.