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The new Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital Combining the best care options under one roof

Early children’s hospitals were places to keep sick kids comfortable, administer medicine, and take vital signs. There wasn’t a lot of hands-on healing happening. Instead, the main duty of the first hospitals was to simply provide a clean, quiet space where these young patients weren’t exposed to outside germs and contaminants. Seen as a potential source of infection, parents and siblings were sent home when visiting hours ended, if they were allowed to visit at all.

Patients from the early days wouldn’t even recognize the soon-to-be constructed Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital as part of the same category. Care for the smallest patients has evolved into high-tech treatments and life-saving procedures, while considering the patient’s emotional and physical health. Hands-on treatment and state-of-the-art technology have been used at the Children’s Hospital for years, but it all will unite under one roof to make the stay easier for patients.

“From the early planning stages, we had meetings with the architectural design firm, looked at the best of other hospitals, and solicited ideas from every member of the Children’s Hospital to create a space that was centered around the child and family,” says David Ungar, M.D., pediatric oncologist and vice chair of clinical affairs.

“The new building will provide everyone involved in a child’s care the space they need to do the best job they can.”

Included in that space will be an outpatient pediatric cancer pavilion with eleven infusion rooms and eight exam rooms for treating the youngest cancer patients who visit for outpatient services. Currently, the outpatient facility is located on a different part of campus from the main hospital.

“We have kids who come here a lot for treatment and move back and forth through inpatient and outpatient areas frequently,” Ungar says. “Having these areas in the same building will be a huge benefit to families. They can just get on an elevator to be where they need to be.”

That ease of access will provide patients and families with a more welcoming feel, since everything is designed with children in mind. “Knowing that everybody in the dedicated building is an advocate for children will make it friendlier to families,” says Kelly Leite, D.O., associate professor of pediatrics and director of the Pediatric Residency Program. “As we designed it, it was wonderful to look at the best way to provide the best care within
new space.”

Today, Children’s Hospital visitors have to find their way through the lobby of the main hospital and then take an elevator to the seventh floor where the Children’s Hospital is located. Although they receive first-rate treatment there, this has caused a bit of an image problem for the Children’s Hospital. The freestanding hospital will eliminate that. It will also elevate the status of the Children’s Hospital in the minds of new staff members and applicants to the pediatric residency program.

“From a residency recruitment standpoint, we are sometimes not seen as comparable to other children’s hospitals because we are on the seventh floor of a full service hospital,” says Leite. “Though the medical student and resident educational experiences are very strong here, some medical students do not consider us for their training because we are not in a building of our own. A freestanding children’s hospital will put us on a level playing field with other pediatric residency programs in our region.”

Family-Centered Space

The specifications of the new 252,000-square-foot Children’s Hospital, slated for a fall 2012 opening, are impressive: The completed building will include a significantly expanded space for pediatric intensive care, an eighteen-bed unit for hematology/oncology patients, a pediatric radiology unit, and a state-of-the-art blood bank and pharmacy. It also will house five pediatric-only operating suites, and a cardiac catheterization lab.

But those numbers mean little to the patients. What will mean a lot is that the new hospital will be welcoming, cheerful, and comforting to the children it serves.

One of the most dramatic changes in modern children’s hospitals is the inclusion of parents and family support in the overall care team. The culture is changing, and parents are now seen as a crucial piece in the child’s overall health since they are the ones to administer ongoing medications, change dressings, and often the first to notice when something seems amiss. They are also the ones with an encyclopedic knowledge of the child’s past health concerns and treatments.

Anne Kocsis of Camp Hill knows first hand what the new Children’s Hospital will bring to parents and families—she has spent countless nights at the hospital alongside her 14-year-old son, Matt, who is being treated for hydrocephalus. As a member of the Family Advisory Council, she was able to share her own experience about the needs of families with the design team. Kocsis has already noticed an increased value in parents’ ideas and thoughts about their child’s care and says there has been a lot of improvement just during the past year in how nurses and doctors interact with her. “They really listened to the input from family members,” Kocsis said. “The design team consulted teenagers, parents, nurses, and doctors on everything from the type of flooring and color options to where outlets should go in the rooms.”

The new private patient rooms will be approximately 50 percent larger with a designated space for families compared to the current rooms, where family members must cluster themselves and their belongings in the same space as IV machines and monitors. Parents and guardians will be able to comfortably spend the night with their child, eliminating some of the fear and anxiety surrounding a hospital visit.

Amenities like in-room showers with the best shower head pressure options and Internet access mean that family members won’t have to worry about missing doctors on rounds by leaving the room for personal matters. A small table and chairs in each room will allow families to keep up with work or other projects.

This family- and child-friendly layout starts before patients even enter their room. Upon entering the hospital, children will be greeted by interactive nature-themed walls, a kid-friendly café, and a performance area for music groups, clowns, and other entertainers. Patients who can’t make it down to the shows will still be able to enjoy them through a closed-circuit channel on their in-room televisions.

Other unique amenities include a meditation room and an outdoor terrace, plus an educational resource center for families to learn about childhood illnesses and wellness.

The extra space also will benefit staff members. Private rooms, particularly in the PICU where beds are currently separated by curtains, will make it easier for physicians and nurses to discuss treatment options with families or other staff without other patients overhearing. “The new PICU rooms will have glass wall fronts and doors with view windows that will allow nurses and doctors to provide a high level of monitoring and provide better privacy for families,” Barbara Ostrov, M.D., vice chair of pediatrics, said.

Commitment to Care

As the only children’s hospital and Level One Pediatric Trauma Center in central Pennsylvania, the new building means that more families can receive care for their children without traveling outside the area. Increased space for the pediatric intensive care unit will allow Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital to continue to care for the sickest patients.

“This doesn’t change our quality of care, but we’ll now have a state-of-the-art facility that allows us to deliver care in a comfortable environment,” Ostrov says.

“We are taking care of sicker and sicker kids in the hospital,” says Ungar. “We will now have an expanded capability to take care of the most critical children as we move into the new facility.”

Benefits of the Children’s Hospital will be felt throughout the region, and not just by those families who use it directly. The facility will create close to 1,500 new jobs, including 300 construction jobs during the building phase. Growth like this prompted the state to provide $14 million in funding from the Public Improvement Program since it will improve the quality of life in the larger central Pennsylvania community. Additional funding came from private donors and Penn State.

“This really validates the importance of pediatrics and shows the value that Penn State places on the care of children,” Ostrov says. “As an organization and a state, we are saying that we recognize the importance of this.”

Ungar agrees. “The thing that is most exciting to me about the new building is that it’s a very clear commitment on the part of Penn State and the surrounding communities to the care of the children of central Pennsylvania.”

– By Holly Swanson

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