The U.’s West Valley Hospital project moving forward. So is its workforce program.

After securing significant bonding capacity in this year’s legislative session, officials at University of Utah Health are finalizing plans for building a new hospital in West Valley City.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) University of Utah Health plans to build a new hospital in West Valley City at 3750 S. 5600 West, pictured Friday, March 29, 2024.

Samoana Matagi lost both of his hands in a burn accident and rehabbed the injuries at University of Utah Health’s facilities in the northeastern corner of Salt Lake City.

He went there because he believes they provide the valley’s best health care, but it required the West Valley City resident to drive 40 minutes each way for his appointments.

“When I heard that they’re thinking of putting a hospital here in West Valley, I was like, ‘This could be great,’” Matagi, who sits on a committee advising U. Health on the project, said. “Because, one, for my self-care, a little bit of selfish reasons on my part. But also, number two, I believe we here in West Valley City have a higher mortality rate and part of it is from having to be transported so far for treatment.”

The U. has been working to build a hospital complex in West Valley City since at least 2022 to better meet the needs of the west side.

Construction has lagged, though, due to rising costs. The U. now plans to break ground early next year with an eye toward opening some facilities on the campus at 3750 S. 5600 West in 2027.

This year, Utah legislators also allowed the system to raise an additional $400 million in bonds, bringing total bonding capacity for the project to $800 million.

‘A big impact’

Those costs also have reshaped how the health center will be built. The U. will divide construction into phases with a multispecialty outpatient center coming first in 2027. It will have an emergency department, exam rooms and some specialty care, like a facility for heart care.

Hospital rooms will come later, but officials have not specified any dates.

(University of Utah Health) Renderings show what the hospital complex in West Valley City could look like. Officials said the image is for illustrative purposes only and not the final design.

Once it’s complete, U. President Taylor Randall said, the complex will have “remarkable societal impact.”

“We began to look at traffic patterns between West Valley City and our hospital and there are 12 million miles driven each year between West Valley and the University of Utah,” Randall said. “So you begin to see that you can have a big impact on people’s lives by moving to their community.”

Randall also mentioned 10-year differences in life expectancy between some West Valley City ZIP codes and others in the Salt Lake Valley along with higher poverty rates as reasons to build in the community.

Staffing the new hospital complex

Hospital officials also face a systemwide workforce shortage. Adding a new complex will only stretch those resources further, so the U. has created a pipeline program in hopes of attracting more people into health care.

Jerry Garcia Peralta is a part of the program’s first cohort. He is a junior at West Valley City’s Roots Charter High School and will graduate early in May.

Garcia Peralta said high school health classes piqued his interest in the field and taught him how he could help his neighbors. He joined the pipeline program after attending some of the committee meetings about the planned health center.

Now, in addition to his high school classes, he has started a certified nurse assistant (CNA) program at Salt Lake Community College with the help of the pipeline program.

“They’ve been really impactful in just pushing me to my best ability. Like if you want something done, you can do it and here’s how we can help, and that’s what they’ve done with me,” Garcia Peralta said about the pipeline program. “...They helped me get started with the enrollment process, to just starting my classes and now, even going farther from there.”

Garcia Peralta and about 50 other students officially started in the pipeline program in January. It pairs them with navigators who assist in course selection, enrollment and financial aid.

The U. isn’t forcing those in the pipeline into its own health education programs. Randall said the health system just needs more workers, no matter where they go to learn.

As for Garcia Peralta, he hopes to work as a CNA for a couple of years before studying to become a registered nurse. He said he would love to work at the planned hospital in West Valley City, too.

Then he, like west-side patients, wouldn’t have to travel as far.