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Children’s Hospital expansion puts families first

Twelve months after Penn State Health Children’s Hospital completed a three-floor vertical expansion, it is clear that detailed preplanning was key to creating an environment that meets the needs of patients, parents and staff.

“We thought it might be challenging for families and staff to adjust to the transition. But what we found was everybody settled right in,” said April Adley, vice president of nursing, Children’s Hospital and Women and Babies Center. “They built these amazing process flows before we moved in, and it is beautiful to see it come together. All that preparation and planning worked.”

The $148 million, 126,000-square-foot expansion, which began in spring 2018 and was completed in October 2020, added more pediatric beds, state-of-the-art technology, a new Women and Babies Center, a 56-bed Level IV neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and the state’s only Small Baby Unit, created specifically for growth and improved brain development of extremely premature babies.

“We not only expanded care but have integrated mom, neonate, baby, child and adolescent care all under one roof,” said Dr. Shawn Safford, division chief of pediatric surgery. “When we brought all that expertise together physically, we also created an environment that is fantastic for families.”

The family-centered environment is especially evident in the expanded NICU, which features multiple single-family rooms, four twin rooms and one triplet room – a big change from the open-bay design of its predecessor.

“When we went into the new NICU, everyone was worried that it would be very difficult to take care of all the patients,” said Dr. Jeffrey Kaiser, chief of neonatal-perinatal medicine at Penn State Health Children’s Hospital. “Within two weeks of being in the new NICU, everyone – including the nurses – loved it and felt the care could be as good as open bay and, in fact, even better. Babies that needed quiet could get quiet. The families that wanted to stay with babies could stay 24/7 in a large, comfortable room. Plus, we have the most magnificent views outside all of the rooms.”

Another benefit of the expansion, according to Dr. Jaimey Pauli, chief of maternal-fetal medicine and medical director of labor and delivery, has been the improvement in interdisciplinary management of patients.

“Being in the Children’s Hospital and in such close proximity to our NICU has been a delight,” said Pauli. “Now we’re a big team. It has improved communication and how we manage patients together. That has been really good from a patient safety as well as a patient experience standpoint.”

Maternal-fetal medicine also added an inpatient presence so providers are available for immediate consultations, ultrasound reads and help in the delivery room.

Pediatric surgery has made similar process improvements, creating subspecialty areas for pediatric care and nursing care. Surgeons also have the ability to perform procedures in the NICU rooms, if the child is too unstable.

“The reality is our facilities are world-class,” said Safford. “The expertise is as well. Everything we do is with a focus on children. You won’t get better care anywhere else in the world.”

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