New hospital for kids taking shape detail by detail

Lawrenceville site to open in spring 2009

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Work continues apace in Lawrenceville, where the new incarnation of the expanding Children's Hospital is rising around the husk of the venerable St. Francis Hospital.

Amid the clatter of sheet-metal duct work being unloaded, the spark of grinders against steel girders and, at times, an eerie calm in rooms awaiting the family dramas that will one day be played out, hospital officials yesterday took reporters on a tour of a facility not slated to open for another 18 months.

"The reason we're building it here is we're essentially out of room in Oakland," said Children's President Roger Oxendale.

In Lawrenceville, where St. Francis once served generations of working-class families, Children's will have room, not to mention walls of natural light, and a city vista that, on some floors, takes in the skyscrapers of Downtown, the spires of Oakland, and the surrounding hills that stretch into the eastern suburbs.

"I'm sure we'll have them requesting rooms based on both view and color," said Eric Hess, the hospital vice president who is overseeing the project. Mr. Hess presided over yesterday's hour-long walk through the facility, which includes new construction that has been wrapped around and appended to the old St. Francis buildings.

Planners took note of the nearly subterranean atmosphere of most city hospitals, where windows are at a premium and fluorescent lighting has displaced the sun. Part of the advantage of the new site is that it has the space needed to factor in natural light.

In all, the new Children's will cover 10 acres, comprise five buildings and three parking garages as well as a large satellite parking lot nearly a mile away on 55th Street near the Allegheny River. The hospital bought the land for $4 million and will run shuttles from it to the hospital.

The new Children's will have 296 patient beds, employ 868 full-time staff, and is nearing completion on a 10-story, 300,000-square-foot research annex.

The campus will have wireless Internet access, permit wider use of cell phones than in most other facilities, and offer overnight in-room accommodations to parents who often move in with their children during long hospital stays. There will be a rooftop garden in which to relax, a chapel in which to pray, kitchenettes in which to cook, and a library in which to read.

With all that, Mr. Hess said, will come something else: quiet.

Rooms have been designed to allow everything from linen and food delivery through hallway-to-room closets and shelves, to nursing staff that will be hooked, wirelessly, to monitors attached to children to reduce the number of bells, alarms and buzzers typical of most health-care settings.

"There are studies out that have shown how noise pollution affects patient care. So we're doing something about that," Mr. Hess said.

One of the more striking features is a multi-story atrium area where patients and families will be invited for special events such as celebrity visits or entertainment. Mr. Hess described the massive room as "sort of a children's town square."

"We'll be able to have sort of everybody participate," he said.

Nearby, too, are playrooms where long-term patients can behave like children. At least one will run round-the-clock, accommodating youngsters whose body clocks have been reset by the disruption of hospital life.

Yesterday's tour was one of several hospital officials are considering as the new hospital rises. It won't open to patients until May 2, 2009 -- 7 a.m. to be precise.

That, Mr. Hess said, is when patients from Children's will be moved, en masse, in a maneuver worthy of military precision. Officials have already conducted computer simulations of the huge transfer, which they plan to carry off in a matter of one business day. "There's not a patient that cannot be moved safely," Mr. Hess promised.

When they arrive, they'll have windows, sunlight, and playrooms. The rest will be up to doctors and nurses.

Dennis Roddy can be reached at or 412-263-1965,.


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