Deep Space is filled to galactic proportions.
Epic Systems Corp.’s enormous new auditorium — known as Deep Space — made its debut this week as more than 15,000 employees and customers gathered Monday for the Verona electronic health records company’s annual users’ group meeting, one of the area’s biggest tourism engines.
The Greater Madison Convention & Visitors Bureau estimates the economic impact of the annual gathering at $6.5 million, second only to the World Dairy Expo.
Deep Space, a five-story, underground auditorium, is believed to be the biggest in Wisconsin with 11,400 seats and room for a future 3,000-seat balcony.
Few spaces were empty Tuesday morning for Epic chief executive Judy Faulkner’s presentation. As she usually does, Faulkner wore a costume reflecting the conference theme, also Deep Space. Dressed as a Na’vi from the movie “Avatar,” Faulkner — who declined to be photographed — wore a striped blue turtleneck sweater and tights, with a brown leather jumper, beads, and pointy, blue ears as she listed Epic’s accomplishments.
“We’ve just gone over the 51 percent mark. You take care of a little over half of the patients in this country,” Faulkner said. Worldwide, nearly 2.4 percent of the population is covered by electronic health records created by Epic.
John Cuningham and Nina Broadhurst of the Cuningham Group, the Minneapolis architectural firm that designed Deep Space, and general contractor Jim Schumacher of J.P. Cullen & Sons, Janesville, told of challenges in creating the unique structure.
Faulkner wanted the huge building to look “invisible,” Cuningham said, as if it were a cave carved into a hill. She also wanted it to be “intimate,” Broadhurst said — an 11,000-seat, fan-shaped auditorium with a 70- by 40-foot screen.
It took 1,400 employees to erect Deep Space, which is bolstered by 33.3 million pounds of steel, Schumacher said.
Epic finished its third set of office buildings, called the Farm Campus, this spring. Next, Faulkner said, are two more sets of office buildings and a cafeteria. The Wizards Academy Campus and King’s Cross Dining Hall are tentatively set for 2015, and the Authors Campus in 2016.
Faulkner outlined plans for increased communication among Epic clients. She also said — perhaps in response to recent articles criticizing the high cost of Epic software — that 86 percent of systems installed in the past two years have come in under budget.
Epic, with $1.5 billion in 2012 revenue and 6,800 employees, will keep growing as its customers grow, Faulkner said, adding that clients are loyal. “To us, it’s a lifetime relationship,” she said.
Employees of 297 health organizations in nine countries are attending the users’ group meeting, which runs through Thursday.
Some, like Beau Dobbs, are first-timers.
“I’m surprised at how big it is. I’ve been to other industry conferences before, but nothing on this scale,” said Dobbs, who uses Epic software programs at Vidant Health in Farmville, N.C.
Aimie Holle is also attending her first Epic conference.
Holle, who handles invoices at MultiCare Health System in Tacoma, Wash., was excited to hear about upcoming technology changes.
“That information is going to be critical to me,” she said.
Jeffery Merritt, a registered nurse and information technology trainer at Mercy health system, St. Louis, said the annual Epic conference helps him learn how other organizations use Epic’s software. For example, one group showed how to document patient rehabilitation; another explained how “smart pumps” that control intravenous medications can plug into Epic’s system.