Case Studies

Kristian Watkins – Banner Health

Flying the banner high for more operating rooms

Normalcy is scarce in hospitals, and being confined to a bed or hospital wing can wear on the strongest of patients. It can be especially trying for children, something that Kristian Watkins has noticed since the pediatric Diamond Tower at Banner Health’s University Medical Center in Tucson, Arizona, was built in 2009.

In 2021, Watkins, the senior director of facilities, development and construction at the teaching hospital, finally got a chance to create a dedicated space for children, thanks in part to funding from donors and charities.

Kristian Watkins | Senior Director of Facilities, Development and Construction | Banner Health

Kristian Watkins | Senior Director of Facilities, Development and Construction | Banner Health

This pediatric play zone will be a non-medical area where children can enjoy video games, a basketball arcade and a pool table. If they wish, they will also be able to speak to professionals and explore their emotions in a casual, relaxed setting. Once completed, the area will also include a sensory room, an art and science area, a library and even a classroom with desks and a chalkboard.

By 2022, Watkins had not only helped wrap up the design for the pediatric play zone but also provided input and guidance as construction workers laid the foundation. With the project moving forward according to schedule, he’s hopeful that the framing of the first section will begin in early 2023.

“It will become a wonderful place, where patients and their families can get away from the day-to-day of being in a hospital unit,” Watkins says. “Everything I do is focused on improving the lives, experience and wellbeing of patients—and this is a fantastic example.”

Finding the right chemistry

Another major project for Watkins was construction of the new diagnostics laboratory at the Banner Health Tucson campus.

As the original senior project manager on this effort, he sought bids from construction companies and equipment manufacturers and started hiring vendors in 2021. By 2022, he was helping with the design of the new lab while overseeing the demolition of the one it would replace. When he received his most recent promotion in August 2022, he ceded the work to the campus’ project manager.

Kristian Watkins | Senior Director of Facilities, Development and Construction | Banner Health

By the end of 2022, the vendors had started framing the new lab, which will be 30,000 square feet and allow all lab teams to work in the same space. Currently, they are spread throughout the building. According to Watkins, this will boost collaboration but also make it easier to upgrade equipment, such as the automated chemistry line he helped install in the old lab.

The new lab will also have new urinalysis equipment and other technology that’s recently hit the healthcare market. He anticipates the new diagnostics lab will be open well before the end of 2023.

“It’s exciting, because it’s such a big space and now our lab technicians can talk to each other instead urinalysis being done in one place and cholesterol checks on blood samples in another,” Watkins says.

Breathing life into dusty gems

Watkins’ job isn’t just about replacing the old with the new but also revitalizing overlooked areas. For instance, he helped reactivate six former operations rooms that had been shut down. With those in use again, more space could be dedicated to creating a new outpatient surgery space.

“We needed more efficiency, which is why I decided to reopen those old operating rooms,” says Watkins, adding that he refreshed the spaces, added new finishes and new air handlers.

Watkins says he’s been successful at Banner Health because he’s “an old dog” familiar with the organization and because he emphasizes collaboration between departments, including facilities, development, construction and finance.

Kristian Watkins | Senior Director of Facilities, Development and Construction | Banner Health

“Simply put, I bring stability,” he says.

In his career, Watkins has worked for only one other employer besides Banner Health. Between January 2006 and June 2008, he was the superintendent for SpawMaxwell Company, which handles commercial high-rise and healthcare construction projects. Obtaining a bachelor’s in biology from the University of South Dakota in 1999 and a master’s in business administration from University of Phoenix, he’s always harbored a love of healthcare—and construction, as his father was a carpenter.

“Healthcare construction merges my two passions, and every day I get to do what I love while helping people at the same time,” Watkins says.

View this feature in the Blueprint Vol. III 2023 Edition here.

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