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U. puts neurology center under 1 roof

The University of Utah has brought its neurology departments — neurology, neurosurgery and radiology — together under one roof at the new University Health Care Clinical Neurosciences Center.

The $20 million, 90,000-square-foot center, which has its own operating rooms and lab, formally opens in two weeks.

The building that used to be the Moran Eye Center is the shell, but the interior has been stripped away and rebuilt for its new purpose, reporters were told Thursday during a tour. The result is a facility that houses a combined outpatient clinic, an education center, four operating rooms (one not yet complete), a stroke center, neurosurgery research area and administrative and faculty offices.

The center offers what Dr. William Couldwell, chairman of neurosurgery, calls the treatment "troika" — patient care, research and education. It's one of the largest and top-rated training programs in the country, he said.

Center spokesman Dennis Jolley said the new facility will provide comprehensive care for brain, nerve and spinal problems. Specialties within the center include stroke, neurology, Alzheimer's/dementia, epilepsy, neurosurgery, headache, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, spine, tumors and vascular neurosurgery.

Neurology is a "core strength" of the U., said David Entwistle, CEO of University of Utah Hospitals and Clinics. It's also an area that's growing. From 1999 to 2006, neuro-related inpatient growth was 42.6 percent, while outpatient growth exceeded 50 percent, said Candice Gourley, the center's administrative director. Recruiting has been both successful and significant, Jolley said. They've hired a new stroke expert, a neurointensivist and a neuro movement disorder specialist. They expect to hire 12 more staffers in neurology. They've also brought in two new neurosurgeons and have posted three other positions. In neuroradiology, they've hired one specialist and another is pending.

Meanwhile, Drs. Kathleen Digre, Michael Funke (both neurologists) and Steve Stevens, chairman of radiology, hailed bringing the three specialties together as being patient friendly and enhancing clinical experience. They can consult each other easily , which "streamlines care," said Digre, who is also an ophthalmologist.

The new center has 42 exam rooms with features particular to neurology, such as wider doors — which slide — and room built in for other family members since neurology patients tend to bring support people with them.

Another key feature is research. Pat McAllister II, for instance, has for years studied hydrocephalus — water on the brain. But instead of being tucked in some lab across the way, he's in the building with the patients and the clinicians, and he believes that proximity will lead to discoveries and their application. At least one physician is a clinical researcher as well. And the researchers work closely with the bioengineers at the U.

The operating rooms are large —700 square feet rather than the traditional 400, said Kathy Adamson, administrative director of surgical services. Neurosurgery is typically complex and uses space-consuming technology. And like the operating rooms, the recovery area has also been retooled to better reflect neurological-treatment needs. Monitors and much of the equipment will swing away overhead, while the beds are moved away from the walls so that staff can move all the way around the patient while caring for him, said unit manager Bruce Garrett.

The lab and operating rooms will be in use in the next two weeks. A new, more powerful MRI with a larger opening to accommodate people who are obese or claustrophobic will be in place in December.