By Evan Henerson
Rising majestically alongside the northbound 101 Freeway near the Reseda Boulevard exit is a structure that heralds an exciting future for healthcare in Los Angeles. Construction of the new Providence Cedars-Sinai Tarzana Medical Center (PCSTMC) campus is well underway, with hundreds of IBEW Local 11 members playing a vital role in the facility’s creation.
As he surveys his crew, hard at work on what will eventually be the new five-story patient tower , site supervisor Duncan Macleod of Rosendin Electric notes that the $28 million project has been a long time coming and is now greatly in need. Including the two years he spent on the center’s pre-design, Macleod has been working on the project for four and a half years.
“We built a new central utility plant,” said Macleod, who is Rosendin’s field supervisor and the project site superintendent. “The original one was built in 1971, so it’s pretty old and needs upgrading. .
“We’ve had to do seismic upgrades to the existing building, so we’ve had night crews out here doing cut-overs to allow new steel to be put in. That’s all in preparation for this new tower to go up. We built the DWP yard and the substations. Coming into the building, we have all the single lines, all the build-out of the patient rooms. Our low-voltage team is in charge of all the low-voltage systems except fire alarms.”
As all of that construction work suggests, there is much to anticipate in what medical center officials are calling “Tarzana Reimagined.” The first phase of the PCSTMC campus upgrade will make its debut in late spring or early summer of 2022, with the opening of a new lobby, gift shop and admitting room.
Concurrently, PCSTMC will unveil its second-floor 22-bed prep and recovery area. In phase 2, the facility will open its chapel, grab-and-go, GI lab, and cardiology and nuclear medicine departments. The patient tower is slated for completion in the fourth quarter of 2022, with patients being moved into the new tower in January 2023.
The new tower will feature all private rooms for the patients. With five new operating rooms, PCSTMC will more than double the size of its emergency department. Expected to be the largest healthcare construction project in the history of the San Fernando Valley, the center’s total upgrade is budgeted at $698 million.
And for the Local 11 members working on the site, the knowledge that their labor is going toward the improvement of patient care makes the work that much more satisfying.
“Every time we’re building hospitals, it’s important to get it done for the patients,” said safety manager Jose Hernandez. “Through the pandemic, especially, I’m sure everyone can use the extra beds. We take it personally because you never know.”
“Your family member or my family member could be in this hospital. It’s a good feeling to build something that’s needed.”
“It’s awesome knowing that the work I’m doing is going toward something that helps people,” said Ben Gutierrez, a journeyman wireman apprentice. “It’s a really good job, and I’ve been learning a lot.”
Although she echoed Gutierrez’s enthusiasm for what will eventually be an outstanding finished product, foreman Alice Zegers also noted that, on hospitals, “things change a lot.”
“They can spend two weeks installing something and making it look good and sometimes I have to come back and say, ‘There’s been a change. It’s not your fault. You didn’t screw up. But there’s been a change, and now you have to tear it out and rebuild it,” Zegers said.
Like Macleod, Zegers has a lengthy history with PCSTMC. In October 2017, she was brought in to help with project design. Then, three and a half years later, she came back to serve as foreman on the patient tower, overseeing an 11-person crew. Hospitals are not new to Zegers, who had previously worked for five years as the general foreman on Ventura County Medical Center. (Read the story on Zegers on page 9.)
On a Friday in November, as some of the floors were in the process of getting their final paint and framing, Zegers said that material availability and disruption in the supply chain due to COVID had made the work challenging. But a good union crew like the IBEW 11 team is up for any curveballs.
“I just try to impress upon my guys that if we stay organized, it helps us to project what materials we have and what we’re going to need, and it helps in terms of scheduling and planning,” she said.
“All of those things are what make a good project come together.”
After spending so much time together on the same project, many of the crew members cite the camaraderie and brotherhood that working together has helped foster. Marvin Syrett, a foreman electrician for levels 2 and 3, has known Macleod for more than 20 years and has been an IBEW member for 25 years. Syrett was also a union member in his native England.
“My favorite part of this job has been working with a good crew,” said Syrett. “I’ve made some great friends throughout the industry. We’re brothers, you know?”
The crew also enjoyed a recent visit from Local 11 Business Manager and Financial Secretary Joël Barton, who met with crew members and answered their questions. Barton, who came out of the trades and spent 20 years working on projects like this one, noted that members appreciate seeing him on the scene and like to ask him questions about, among other things, IBEW’s benefits and pensions.
“That’s kind of a common theme, and, of course, IBEW 11’s benefits and wages are tremendous,” Barton said. “Also, being together as a local union brotherhood — we have each other’s backs. So, I think people like and appreciate that.”