Construction continues at Banner-University Medical Center, with a move into the new facility scheduled in eight months. “Getting our 1,000 RNs ready and transitioned into the new hospital is top priority now,” spokeswoman Katie Riley says.

For the first time in 15 years, Banner-University Medical Center Tucson does not have “magnet” status for nursing excellence.

Hospital officials say they are giving up magnet designation for the time being, in order to get ready to move into a new facility next year.

Magnet status is often touted as a nursing recruiting and retention tool and a way to demonstrate institutional support for nursing staff.

Banner-University Medical Center Tucson was last awarded the four-year designation in 2014 and was the only Southern Arizona hospital to hold the status. Its status expired last week.

Fewer than 10 percent of hospitals in the U.S. are designated magnet hospitals by the American Nurses Credentialing Center, which says meeting the requirements improves both patient experience and nursing burnout.

There are 10 remaining magnet hospitals Arizona, including three other facilities owned by Banner Health.

Banner-University Medical Center Tucson, which was then called University Medical Center, was the first hospital in Arizona to gain magnet status from the American Nurses Credentialing Center, in 2003, following an extensive application and three-year evaluation process.

Back then, the hospital celebrated the occasion with billboards, a party and a T-shirt for every employee that said, “First Magnet Hospital in Arizona.”

Banner Health confirmed by email last week that it would not seek redesignation in Tucson for the time being.

“We have a great deal of work ahead of us with the opening of the new, state-of-the-art hospital tower in just eight months,” says a statement from hospital spokeswoman Katie Riley.

“Our priority is to make that transition as smooth as possible for our patients, staff and community. ... Getting our 1,000 RNs ready and transitioned into the new hospital is top priority now,” she wrote.

Riley said the hospital remains committed to pursuing magnet status again after moving into the new hospital.

The hospital has since 2015 been owned by Phoenix-based Banner Health. Banner is in the midst of building a nearly entirely new hospital — a $443.1 million, nine-story tower on the Banner-University Medical Center Tucson campus at 1501 N. Campbell Ave. that is set to open in April 2019.

When the new tower opens next year, the hospital will also be getting a new address — 1625 N. Campbell Ave.

“Our nurses are highly dedicated, educated and compassionate professionals who provide our patients best-in-class care when they need it most,” Riley wrote. “We are confident we will achieve that designation again in the future.”

The qualifying process for magnet designation is centered around outcomes of patient care and patient experience, as well as education and research within the facility that elevate the professional practice of nursing, said Rhonda Anderson, a Phoenix-based registered nurse who is a board member of the American Nurses Credentialing Center.

“When I talk to magnet surveyors, they say when they walk into a (magnet) organization, it’s palpable the culture is there to support the staff and obviously the patients,” Anderson said. “The staff feel this is where they want to practice their profession.”

Anderson said there are cases where hospitals have given up their magnet designation and then reapplied a year or two later.

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The magnet program was established in 1992 and developed during a nursing shortage in the 1980s as a way to recognize hospitals that acted as “magnets” — places where nurses wanted to work and that had few vacancies and low turnover.

Banner-University ’s chief nursing officer, Cathy Townsend, says the hospital hopes to resubmit for magnet designation in 2019 or 2020.

“For me it is sad to think the very first organization in the state and the only one in Tucson to be a magnet hospital is giving it up,” said Marty Enriquez, who was the hospital’s chief nursing officer in 2003.

“It is a prestigious distinction that tells the community, patients and the people that work there that there is high patient quality care,” she said. “Magnet has rigid standards you have to meet.”

The process to get magnet status takes into account a whole system of support for nursing, from housekeeping to management, said Enriquez, who is chairing a committee on magnet hospital history for the Arizona Nurses Association’s centennial in 2019.

At employee trainings at University Medical Center after 2003, Enriquez said, she often encountered doctors and nurses who wanted to work for the hospital because of its magnet status.

“I can tell you with 100 percent confidence that in the 14 years I was CNO (chief nursing officer) there, it definitely made a difference,” said Enriquez, who worked at the hospital a total of 24 years.

“It empowers the organization. Magnet designation is really a recognition for the work they do each and every day.”

Contact health reporter Stephanie Innes at 573-4134 or email sinnes@tucson.com. On Twitter: @stephanieinnes