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University of Utah
An artist's rendering of the Craig H. Neilsen Rehabilitation Hospital that will be built at the University of Utah. The 75-bed hospital will be one of the most advanced rehabilitation facilities in the nation and will serve as a catalyst for the further development of the U.’s rehabilitation programs.

SALT LAKE CITY — In June 2015, Brian McKenna was injured in a mountain biking accident that left the Salt Lake City man paralyzed from the neck down.

As a quadriplegic, McKenna spent months recovering at the University of Utah Rehabilitation Center. During his recovery, he said the best physical therapy sessions he had were when he visited the grounds outside the walls of the facility.

So when university officials asked for his opinion on plans for a new university rehabilitation center, McKenna was happy to give his insight.

"I’ve been able to help give a lot of input about the patient’s perspective," he said. "I think (the new center) is going to be monumental and a huge, huge, huge improvement to the patient experience, and that’s what this is all about."

Local dignitaries and university officials gathered Wednesday for a groundbreaking ceremony for the Craig H. Neilsen Rehabilitation Hospital, 85 N. Medical Drive.

The Craig H. Neilsen Foundation donated $47.5 million for the project, which will house 75 private patient rooms.

"We believe strongly in a fusion of health care and hospitality, and we think we’ve been able to do that," said Ray Neilsen, chairman of foundation's board of directors.

The design of the new facility places a heavy emphasis on aesthetics, Neilsen continued. The conceptual designs show windows covering much of the building, giving patients a view of the mountains and gardens.

"Whether you are a patient, a family member or a researcher, we know we’re creating an environment to inspire people with hope and inspiration," he said.

Using 150,000 square feet, the new center will have a mobility garage located inside the facility, along with two therapy gyms and two floors of therapy space.

The total estimated cost of the project is $423.5 million.

"At its core, physiatry is more than about getting people home. It’s really about getting people back to living their lives," said Dr. Richard Kendall, a physical medicine and rehabilitation physician with the University of Utah School of Medicine.

U. President David Pershing said one subtle feature of the facility is its gardens outside the building.

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"We believe that having a spectacular facility will help encourage the patients," Pershing said. "The most important thing is, of course, what our physicians and nurses and physical therapists will be doing inside the building."

University of Utah Health staffs more than 18,000 employees and provides care for residents in Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana and Nevada. The new rehabilitation center is scheduled for completion in spring 2020.

"I can’t wait to see this building and the inside," McKenna said. "I can’t wait to see how much better the experience will be for those new people who are unfortunate enough to be in this situation."