A day in the life of UTMB's program director of Capital Projects

Mar 21, 2016, 08:21 AM by KirstiAnn Clifford

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When Jake Wolf walks into the new Jennie Sealy Hospital, he can tell you the story behind every light fixture, piece of furniture and architectural detail that adorns the 765,000-square-foot building.

On a Wednesday afternoon in February, I’m lucky enough to have Wolf lead me on a private tour. As the program director of Capital Projects at UTMB, he has managed more than $650 million in design and construction projects, including the new Jennie Sealy Hospital, Clinical Services Wing and League City Hospital. So, it would be accurate to say he’s been busy lately.

“It’s controlled chaos,” says Wolf. “My calendar is usually filled to the gills and sometimes I’m double- or triple-booked, so I just have to do the best that I can. I enjoy it—it’s challenging, that’s for sure.”

I first meet him at his office before 8 a.m. Coffee in-hand, he’s having a quick huddle with his project managers before they disperse for the day. It’s getting down to the wire to finish up last-minute construction projects and equipment move-in before the first patient is to be transferred into Jennie on April 9.

And with Jennie’s completion in the homestretch, Wolf spends much of his day in meetings. I try to act like a fly on the wall during the first session with the Jennie Sealy Hospital architect, contractors and UT System Office of Facilities Planning and Construction. A few tense exchanges pop up regarding the “punch list,” a collection of tasks that need to be completed to satisfy the terms of the construction contract. Wolf, however, exudes a calmness and confidence that puts everyone around the table at ease.

“The most challenging part of the job is all the coordination—I work with architects, engineers, contractors, our folks with Office of Facilities Planning and Construction and numerous consultants,” Wolf says. “There are a lot of opinions, but not everybody gets their way. It’s a challenge to try and balance between the budget, everyone’s wishes and the campus master plan. Sometimes they can conflict.”
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Wolf credits his talented team in Design and Construction with keeping everything running as smoothly as possible: Christy Hermes, a senior project manager who has been in charge of the 10,000 pieces of medical equipment going into the new hospital; Paul Graham, a senior construction manager, who has been at UTMB for 28 years and knows the ins and outs and nooks and crannies of the entire campus; Bryce Burkett, a construction manager; and Carol Luck, a project team coordinator who was recently named the office “MVP.”

After dropping in on another meeting about medical equipment—apparently, some items have been delivered to the wrong unit and workers are on a hunt to find the missing items on one of Jennie’s 12 floors—Jake suggests we head over to the new hospital and take a look around ourselves.

“There’s always something,” he says with a smile.

As we approach the new hospital, I hear an alarm and spot a few fire trucks sitting outside. Wolf tells me not to get too excited; it’s fire-alarm testing day.

It’s noisy and lively as firefighters roam the lobby area, but when they leave, the hospital suddenly feels eerily quiet—furniture has been moved in, art has been hung and a few contractors in hard hats work contently on last projects—but no patients, doctors or nurses occupy the halls just yet.

Wolf has led several tours lately. He gave a sneak peek of the new hospital to 150 Correctional Managed Care managers, the Sealy & Smith Foundation and a few members of the UT System Board of Regents. He walks and talks like a seasoned tour guide, pointing out the spacious OR waiting room as we make our way to the elevators.

On the 11th floor, I’m immediately hit with the spectacular views of the Gulf of Mexico and Galveston harbor that can be seen from many of the hospital’s patient rooms. It feels more like a hotel suite, with two TVs, a sofa bed for visitors and a refrigerator. Wolf explains that plentiful research went in to designing every aspect of the hospital, from the patient rooms to the curved corridors.

“I drove everyone crazy during mock-ups,” said Wolf. “I wanted to mock everything up. I created life-sized models of a patient room, an ICU patient room, an operating room, a decentralized nurse’s station, even an elevator cab to make sure we could get equipment in there in case a patient ‘codes.’ When you walked into the old Lipton Tea Building (1902 Harborside Building), it was literally like walking on to a Hollywood movie set. It was the best way to test everything out and see if it worked.”
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We continue our tour at one of Wolf ’s favorite parts of the hospital, the OR, which features 20 state-of-the-art operating suites and intraoperative MRI capability. A “skylight” complete with cloud images accents the ceiling above the iMRI, which is used to get real-time images of the brain during surgery and helps neurosurgeons achieve a more complete removal of brain tumors.

Two workers are putting a coating on the floor next to the high-tech machine. Wolf kneels down to talk to them,checking their work while running his hand over the smooth surface.

“It’s pretty wild,” said Wolf. “There’s only a few iMRIs in the nation that have this capability. It’s a big deal.”

I leave Wolf as he runs off to another meeting—this one regarding the John Sealy Hospital renovation. His job never stops,but he wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s moments like these, as he can see a project like the new Jennie Sealy Hospital in its final form, when he knows his hard work has paid off.

“It’s exciting. It’s been over four years, right? It seems like just yesterday we were pouring concrete,” Wolf says. “Jennie is a great gift to UTMB, the island and the people of Texas. So it’s humbling to be part of that.”