Children Hospital's move across town smooth, but bittersweet
Cancer patient Rylee Brunette, 10, of Chippewa, waves to bystanders yesterday while being transported from Oakland to the new Children's Hospital location in Lawrenceville. She is the first patient being transferd around 7 a.m. The hospital transported 178 patients to the new Lawrenceville location.
Transplant patient Oliver Wilhelm III, right, 5, of Kingwood, W.Va., explores the new environment at the Children's Hospital in Lawrenceville yesterday with his playmates, 21-month-old Bentley Brands of Tyler, Texas, left, and 13-month-old Abigail Dovolos of Buffalo, N.Y.
Transplant patient Oliver Wilhelm III, 5, of Kingwood, W.Va., gives a thumbs-up to his mom, Crystal at the old Children's Hospital in Oakland before he was being transferred to the new hospital this morning. He is among 178 patients being transported to the new Lawrenceville location. At right is registered nurse Christin Cooper and Oliver's father, Oliver Wilhelm, Jr.
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Children's Hospital has been a second home to Oliver Wilhelm III, of Kingwood, W.Va., since he was diagnosed at birth nearly six years ago with small bowel syndrome.
But upon his wide-eyed viewing of the state-of-the art environment at Children's new $625 million campus in Lawrenceville, Oliver told his father, "I don't want to go back" to Oakland.
That's the kind of reaction that cheers officials of Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, who yesterday undertook the daunting task of relocating 152 patients, including Oliver, from the Oakland facility to the Lawrenceville campus.
The logistically complex relocation, two years in the planning, involved both critical care patients and acute care patients like Oliver, who received a small bowel transplant at the beginning of March. Four of the patients were scheduled for surgery in Lawrenceville yesterday.
"The planning, preparation and teamwork that I've witnessed in the last couple of years -- leading up right through this historical event -- has been extremely impressive," Christopher A. Gessner, Children's president, said during a press conference at the hospital's new administrative building soon after the move ended. "It's very, very exciting for us to be here at our new home and ready to serve this community."
In all, about 275 physicians, nurses, staff and emergency medical services personnel, and more than 40 ambulances were involved in the relocation between the two facilities, which are separated by 21/2 miles. Their assignments to critical or acute care patients were signified by the T-shirts they wore -- red or blue, respectively.
Pittsburgh police were stationed along the route to help smooth potential traffic problems. DeSoto Street between O'Hara Street and Fifth Avenue in Oakland was closed to traffic so it could be used as a staging area for ambulances used in patient transport.
The changeover officially began at 6 a.m., when signs identifying the facility in Oakland were taken down and the emergency room there closed. Simultaneously, emergency room admissions were opened in Lawrenceville.
At precisely 7:15 a.m., the first child to be moved, cancer patient Rylee Brunette, 10, of Chippewa was wheeled out of the hospital to a waiting ambulance. Wearing a surgical mask and a bandanna on her head, Rylee waved to news reporters and photographers outside.
Like all patients being moved, Rylee was accompanied by a registered nurse, a transport attendant, a paramedic and a parent. Patients were expected to leave the hospital at intervals of about five minutes, but the pace was much quicker. By 8:15 a.m., only an hour into the move, Oliver was the 22nd child to be placed in an ambulance for the trip to Lawrenceville. By noon, more than 100 patients had made the move to the new hospital.
The final patient left Oakland at 1:19 p.m. and arrived at the new hospital 11 minutes later.
The entire move took a little more than 61/2 hours -- several hours less than hospital officials had anticipated.
Jennifer Iagnemma, the move coordinator, credited the extensive preparations: "Once we got into the flow of the move, it sort of just had legs."
There were only minor problems. Around 8 a.m., a helicopter carrying a child from another hospital landed at the Lawrenceville facility. The child was then placed in an elevator that was being used to carry patients from Oakland, and staff had to take control briefly of another elevator to keep the relocation flowing smoothly.
Also, there was some grumbling among staff and volunteers when they ran out of boxed lunches. The hospital quickly brought in more food.
Top Children's officials appeared visibly relieved during their afternoon press conference, smiling and joking with reporters.
"I feel great," Ms. Iagnemma said. "It was a wonderful day."
Upon Oliver's arrival in Lawrenceville, he, too, was enthralled. After getting settled into Room 738, where he is expected to stay for another two months, he took off running down the wide, bright, colorful hallway to a sitting area. He tried out every chair and stared out at the city through large windows.
And he reconnected with other relocated patients, like 21-month-old Bentley Brands of Tyler, Texas, who became his friend during their stay on 7 North, the abdominal transplant unit in the Oakland facility.
Oliver's parents, Crystal and Oliver Wilhelm Jr., were as happy with the new hospital as was their son.
"I love it," Ms. Wilhelm said. "I think it is absolutely awesome."
Dr. Steven G. Docimo, hospital vice president of medical affairs, said he and other Children's staff had never been involved in such a massive relocation of patients.
"And I hope I never am again," he said, smiling. "It is unusual. This crosstown move is very rare. Most hospital moves involve relocating from one wing to another."
He said the ideal goal was to have only 150 patients to relocate. Even though the eventual number was higher, it certainly was a more manageable number than the 240 patients Children's had earlier in the week.
Enthusiasm among staff, parents and children continued to build as a clock in the hospital counted down the days left till the move, he said. Yesterday, it read "0 Days."
Everyone was ready to go after all of the logistical planning, which included two tabletop exercises and one actual move involving mannequins as well as staff observing patient relocations at other hospitals in the country, he said.
Registered nurse and Unit 7 North director Paula Eicker, who has been at Children's for 23 years, allowed with a laugh that some longtime employees may find themselves mistakenly driving to Oakland today. While everyone is excited about the relocation, there's also some sentimental feelings about closing the Oakland facility, especially among those who never worked anywhere else, she noted.
"It's kind of bittersweet. You know you're going to something better and we're upgrading but then you think of all the kids you've taken care of over the years here," she said.
Hours later she closed the Oakland unit forever.
Correction/Clarification: (Published May 4, 2009) Children's Hospital patient Oliver Wilhelm III was misidentified in a reference in this story as originally published May 3, 2009.
First Published May 3, 2009 12:00 am