Straub Medical Center breaking ground on new Honolulu medical campus

Straub Medical Center, which is celebrating the 100th anniversary of its founding, is scheduled to break ground today on a future Straub “campus” that has the
potential to keep local doctors, nurses and technicians in the islands, attract new ones and — perhaps more importantly — provide patients with modern facilities and technology instead of their seeking treatment on the mainland.

“First and foremost are the needs of our patients,” said Ray Vara, CEO and president of Hawai‘i Pacific Health, which includes Straub, Kapi‘olani Medical Center for Women &Children, Pali Momi Medical Center and Wilcox Medical Center.

The planned 5-acre campus will “instill confidence that patients can get everything they need here at home,” Vara said. “We know that patient outcomes are better and they heal faster when they’re close to home.”

At the same time, Vara said, the new Straub will mean “that the best and brightest will want to practice here in Hawaii. The reality is that when we’re trying to attract the best talent, the best physicians, the best staff to practice here, facilities play a big role in that, technology plays a big role in that.”

Today’s groundbreaking has been two decades in the making following a dozen separate transactions to acquire adjacent land, buildings, leases and extensions of leases.

“It’s taken every bit of the last 20 years to acquire the necessary real estate,” Vara said.

Straub calls its plans “Straub’s Health Care Campus of the Future,” with 760,000 square feet of space.

It will be bordered by South King Street, South
Hotel Street, Ward Avenue and Kealamakai Street in the Thomas Square/Honolulu Academy of Arts Special Design District.

The diamond head boundary is on the Ewa side of the city’s Thomas Square Park, which is separated from Straub by Ward Avenue.

Straub’s Certificate of Need was approved by the state Health Department’s Planning and Development Agency in 2020 and final plans received unanimous approval by the City Council this month.

The project will be built over 15 years in phases, moving from the Ewa side to Diamond Head, beginning with construction of a 1,650-stall parking garage on the Kealamakai Street side of the campus.

Straub’s existing 400-stall parking structure on South Hotel Street — makai of the back of the Honolulu Police Department — will be torn down in the second phase to make room for a new medical center; followed by outdoor green spaces; and finally the renovation of the existing Straub Medical Center and the Strode Medical Building.

Straub also plans elevated pedestrian paths between buildings and is working to mitigate traffic and noise.

Vara said neither parking nor patient care will be affected during construction.

Straub currently has 159 beds in its 260,000-square-foot medical center.

How many beds will be in the new medical campus has yet to be determined. But, following the experience of the COVID-19 pandemic, the new spaces are designed to provide maximum flexibility.

Straub estimates that the project will create 400 construction jobs and lead to about 100 new full-time medical positions.

At a cost of around $1 billion, Straub expects to fund the project in phases through philanthropy, bonds and its own assets, Vara said.

“There will be no request for government funding,” he said.

On Jan. 21, 1921, Dr. George F. Straub and his partners founded “The Clinic” to treat family members’ needs under one roof.

Over the decades that
followed, patient needs, medical technology and hospital regulations have constantly evolved as Straub underwent upgrades to keep up, said Hilton Raethel, president and CEO of the Healthcare Association of Hawaii.

Out of 3,012 hospitals, Straub currently ranks as the best medical center in the country for clinical outcomes; is the only Hawaii hospital to receive America’s 250 Best Hospital Award two years in a row — in 2020 and 2021; and has received the Outstanding Patient Experience Award 12 years in a row, beginning in 2010, among other accolades.

But the current facilities and technology would benefit from renovations, Raethel said.

“Straub’s been around for a long time and the campus has been developed over many, many years,” Raethel said. “The days when there were 40 patients in a room are long gone and maintenance costs add up while the needs of patients change over time. … It can be very challenging to run a hospital and treat patients in an older facility. Hospitals do need to upgrade over time.”

State Rep. Ryan Yamane, chairman of the House committee on Health, Human Services and Homelessness, called Straub’s plans “vital in today’s world,” especially with COVID-19 stretching Hawaii’s health care system and staffing.

“COVID showed that we are way more isolated than other parts of our great country, right in the middle of the Pacific,” Yamane said. Straub “putting in that investment means we can handle our own quality health care, especially during these uncertain times. … We’re excited they’re expanding and upgrading. It means that Hawaii now can have the best technology, as well as the best people. This will enable Straub to draw on our own local labor force to stay. Our younger people want to use the best technology in the best facilities to be invested and remain in Hawaii.”

Since Straub’s hospital opened in 1972, Vara said “it’s been mostly maintaining the existing facility.”

Straub quoted its founder who said, “I had a vision that we could create a clinic where patients always come first and where the health needs of the entire family could be met under one roof.”

But the new campus is designed to result in state-of-the-art facilities, equipment and health care for generations, Vara said, and possibly “for another 100 years.”

Straub Medical Center breaking ground on new Honolulu medical campus

Christin Hakim

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