University of Chicago Medicine’s new cancer hospital will cost $182 million more to build than expected — and have fewer beds than originally planned — because of runaway inflation and design changes.
When University of Chicago Medicine leaders announced the project a year ago, they said it would cost $633 million to build and have 128 beds for overnight patients. That cost has ballooned nearly 29% to $815 million with just 80 beds.
About $100 million of that increased cost is due to “hyperinflation” since the project was announced, according to an application filed by University of Chicago Medicine to the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board. The reduction in the number of beds “was a direct response to managing the escalated cost of the overall project,” according to the application.
“It’s a balance of what we can afford at this time and providing a substantial amount of beds,” said Marco Capicchioni, vice president for cancer center projects for University of Chicago Medicine.
Overall, the facility, which will be in Hyde Park, will be larger than originally planned at 575,000 square feet instead of 544,000 square feet, with seven floors instead of five. It will include significantly more empty space in the facility for future needs. Originally, about 30,000 square feet were supposed to be empty, and now 161,000 square feet will be shell space. The empty space will allow the center to expand faster in the future than if it waited to start additional construction when a need arose, according to the application.
“Part of it is a response to where will cancer care go in the future,” Capicchioni said. “It pulls back on the number of inpatient beds but leaves the future open for the opportunity to really address the needs of the patients and where medicine is going. Cancer care is changing very quickly, so we’re trying to build a building that will last for many years.”
University of Chicago Medicine leaders also attributed the cost increase to redesigns following input from the community, gathered through a telephone poll, surveys, town halls and other meetings. The ground floor, for example, was redesigned to be an open, inviting space and a community hub for cancer prevention, screening and diagnosis with a teaching kitchen and resource library, among other features, Capicchioni said.
University of Chicago Medicine leaders continue to envision the new cancer hospital as a state-of-the-art facility that will give South Side residents greater access to cancer care while attracting patients from across the region. It is also meant to help take pressure off of the main hospital, which is often running at or nearly at capacity for its staffed beds, meaning the hospital must frequently say no to community hospitals’ requests to transfer patients there. The cancer hospital is expected to help free up more beds in the main hospital.
The new facility will also aim to address long-standing health disparities on the South Side, where many Black Chicagoans live. On the South Side, cancer death rates are nearly twice the national average, and it’s the leading cause of death in the neighborhoods of Calumet Heights, East Side, Kenwood, South Deering and Woodlawn, according to University of Chicago Medicine.
Yet South Siders can lack access to care, with many community hospitals on the South Side under strain. About 56% of South Side residents leave the area for health care, and 67% of cancer patients needing overnight care get it elsewhere, according to the health system.
If University of Chicago Medicine’s application is approved by the state board, construction could start in the second half of this year, and the facility could open in 2027. It is also slated to include 90 consultation and outpatient exam rooms, infusion therapy rooms, imaging equipment and space for clinical trials, in hopes of making it easier for South Side residents to participate in clinical trials.
“If anything, this is an improved version, even though the number of beds is lower,” said Dr. Kunle Odunsi, director of the UChicago Medicine Comprehensive Cancer Center, of the new plan, citing the more advanced technologies that could be added to the shell spaces in the future and additional space for clinical trials, among other things. “If you think about quality rather than quantity, it will serve our patients even better than before.”
The center will consolidate care now spread across five buildings. The new, free-standing facility is planned for vacant land owned by the university on East 57th Street, between South Maryland and South Drexel avenues.