Case Studies

Mike McKay – UW Health

Health care architect plans for sustainable growth

It’ s not always easy for a hospital system to be sustainable. The lights are always on, machines like respirators run steady throughout the night and refrigerators must be kept cold to preserve medicines and specimens.

These are but a few of the challenges Mike McKay encounters at UW Health as he works with his colleagues to reduce the organization’s carbon footprint.

“It’s a tall order for hospitals because we use a lot of energy on a 24/7/365 basis,” he says.

Mike McKay | Director, Planning, Design, Construction and Real Estate | UW Health

Mike McKay | Director, Planning, Design, Construction and Real Estate | UW Health

McKay is the director of planning, design, construction and real estate for the Madison, Wisconsin-based integrated health system, which is ranked No. 1 in the state. The organization, which is affiliated with the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, is comprised of seven hospitals and over 80 clinics, including six regional cancer centers.

This equates to nearly 10 million square feet of facilities that McKay and his team of 35 oversee. Being as sustainable as possible helps ensure everything runs smoothly and safely for patients and doctors, he says.

“It’s about service to the mission,” McKay says. “UW Health treats some of the sickest of the sick, so it’s rewarding to be part of the mission of serving them.”

Laying the blueprint

As McKay and his team work on projects through UW Health’s strategic  capital plan, which will be carried out over the next 10 years, he meets with teams comprised of clinical, leadership, administrative representatives and key staff.

The monthly meetings, called medical operations planning work streams, are used for high level planning in departments such as inpatient, surgery and ambulatory. McKay, whose background is in architecture, works with the teams to plan facilities projects that are sustainable and support their goals.

For example, over the next 10 years, he and his team will expand University Hospital and East Madison Hospital to accommodate 150-250 additional beds as part of the inpatient team’s goal to meet growing demand created by increasing patient referrals.

Mike McKay | Director, Planning, Design, Construction and Real Estate | UW Health

“The work streams help with forecasting, strategic planning and budgeting, and help drive our decision making,” McKay says. “It helps lay out the blueprint for the future.”

Another focus is on expanding outpatient services through three new medical centers in the greater Madison metro area. Plans for the first, Eastpark Medical Center, were underway when McKay spoke with Blueprint in December 2022, and he expected its steel structure to be up in February. The 480,000-square-foot specialty care center is expected to open by the end of 2024.

A central center is still three to five years away from completion, he says, and a western center is five to seven years away. The goal with the new centers, McKay says, is to create a hub of specialists to make it easier for patients to access care. This will also allow UW Health to consolidate older and smaller clinics that are currently spread over a wide area.

Increasing efficiency

McKay and his team have been “embracing sustainable design” in all new builds, he says, with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certifications being the minimum goal.

UW Health is also part of the Better Buildings Challenge, a U.S. Department of Energy initiative in which participants commit to increasing their energy efficiency by 20 percent over 10 years.

For each new build, McKay works closely with Mary Evers-Statz, UW Health’s program director of sustainability and energy management, during the design phase to incorporate efficient features. For example, there will be a parking garage built next to the Eastpark Medical Center that will have solar panels on its roof.

Mike McKay | Director, Planning, Design, Construction and Real Estate | UW Health

This will generate 1 megawatt of energy, which will fully power Eastpark’s proton therapy center, making it a carbon free cancer center. This accounts for almost 40 percent of Eastpark’s projected energy needs, McKay says.

When remodeling or renovating existing facilities, he says his team looks for ways to make the site more sustainable, such as installing LED lights and more efficient HVAC systems. The team has also been working to lessen water usage on job sites and recycle as much construction material as possible.

“We view every project we take on as an opportunity to make UW Health more sustainable,” McKay says.

Seeing the impact

Working at UW Health has been a culmination of everything McKay has worked towards in his career, he says, adding that the organization was looking to hire someone with experience in healthcare architecture and planning.

“Architecture helps you understand design thinking and problem solving, which helps in the complex planning of hospitals,” he says.

After graduating from Ball State University with two bachelor’s degrees—one in architecture and the other in science and environmental design—McKay worked for over four years as a project manager at Archonics, a firm in Indiana.

Mike McKay | Director, Planning, Design, Construction and Real Estate | UW Health

Then, in 1991, he joined Morrison Kattman Menze, also a firm in Indiana, where he became partner during his nearly 20-year tenure. In that time, he grew the firm’s portfolio of health care projects, helping the firm earn several design awards from the American Institute of Architects.

McKay then opened a private consultancy firm in 2011, mostly working with hospitals and health care organizations. While he also took a role the following year as vice president of architecture and design at ERDMAN, he maintained his business for over seven years.

Since being hired at UW Health in September 2018, McKay says he’s particularly liked being involved with projects from start to finish.

“As a consultant, I would do a project and leave,” he says. “It’s rewarding being on the owner’s side and working with the nurses and doctors and then seeing the impact on patients. I’m able to serve the mission instead of just the project.”

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