IOWA CITY — Through the winding basement corridors of University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, in former storage space beneath a parking ramp, there are three model hospital rooms being used to help define the new $292 million UI Children’s Hospital.
More than 500 hospital doctors, staff, patients, parents and community members have for months been involved with planning the new Children’s Hospital, for which site work is starting in preparation for a spring 2016 opening.
One way they’ve offered feedback and ideas is through visits to the mock-up patient rooms, where they can get a sense and appreciation of the space, Children’s Hospital Executive Director Scott Turner said. The mock-up rooms represent the three types of patient rooms in the new building: pediatric and neonatal intensive care and medical surgery.
The input of those various groups has led to several design changes, modifications that planners hope will mean a better and safer environment for the thousands of young patients served at the Children’s Hospital each year.
“It’s probably saved us quite a bit of headache and led to a number of good discoveries,” Turner said.
Alivea Carnahan’s mom slept on a cot in her hospital room during the two weeks Carnahan was hospitalized in 2009, after an accident at home left her with second- and third-degree burns over 19 percent of her body. So a comfortable couch or recliner in each room would be good for family members, said Carnahan, who serves on the Youth Advisory Council, one of 10 work groups giving input into the new hospital.
The 14-year-old from Amana, an eighth-grader at Clear Creek Amana, also wants to see lots of color, through artwork and bright walls, for a cheerier vibe.
“I’ve suggested fish tanks, for sure, because I love that, and we talk about things that add color to the hospital,” she said. “We want lots of artwork and more of a kid-friendly place.”
Examples of the changes made, based on feedback, include widened patient room doorways, to accommodate the large equipment and numerous staff often needed to treat tiny patients with complex medical needs, and scrapping plan for showers in each room’s bathroom, after realizing there was a need for more space in each room’s “care zone,” Turner said.
Consistent sleeping arrangements, via a comfortable foldout couch in each room, was high on the priority list for families, Turner said. Having a mini refrigerator was another suggestion, he said, and hospital officials are testing models in the hopes of finding one that works in the space and environment.
Perhaps most notably, feedback from nurses and doctors resulted in the abandonment of plans for “mirror image rooms,” where side-by-side rooms are mirror images of each other, which allows the common wall to be used to share pipes and wiring. Mirror image rooms save a little money, officials said, but it’s akin to sometimes having the steering wheel on the left side of the car and sometimes having it on the right side, with supplies and equipment in different locations in different rooms.
Instead, each patient room will be a carbon copy, after hospital staff said they prefer that.
“Evidence suggests having consistency in room layout makes it safer,” Turner said. “We think standardization drives quality.”
Those mock-up rooms, now used for design and planning, eventually will have equipment and fixtures added to be exact copies of the planned rooms in the new hospital, so they can be used for training, Turner said.
“So that we kind of have the owner’s manual, so to speak, about how we want the care and the total experience to work within the space,” he said.
Change in the midst of planning happened on a major scale earlier in the process, as well.
About a year ago, plans were moving ahead on the new tower when Vice President for Medical Affairs Jean Robillard realized he didn’t like what he saw.
The old plan seemed to shoehorn the Children’s Hospital in, working around existing buildings and parking ramps, rather than really thinking about a long-range master plan that takes into account traffic, parking, patient flow, access to the emergency room and physical aesthetics, Robillard said.
“I said ‘we cannot do this,’ ” he said. “I said ‘let’s just hold on and really design a master plan for the place that stands the test of time.’”
That step back resulted in a shift in location and change to the building design for the Children’s Hospital.
Rather than constructing it at the south end of the complex, connected to the Pappajohn Pavilion, the new tower will be constructed more to the west. Parking ramp No. 2 will come down, starting in January, to be replaced with underground parking.
That clears space for the new oval-shaped hospital tower that emphasizes natural light in patients rooms, with an outdoor garden and playground area that feels more parklike, Robillard said. Removing ramp No. 2 also will allow space for the future addition of one or two more adult bed towers, years down the road, he said.
Even during that re-envisioning, planning on some aspects continued, Robillard said.
“We maybe lost three or four months in the whole process, which is nothing — nothing — to have something that people will be proud of,” he said.
The goal is to raise about $100 million privately for the project, with $50 million for the building and $50 million for programs, and about $94 million has been raised so far, Robillard said.
The 195-room Children’s Hospital will bring together the children’s services that are now scattered throughout several pavilions and floors at the hospital, officials. Last year, the UI Children’s Hospital cared for more than 6,200 hospitalized children, performed 4,931 surgeries and provided 208,959 outpatient visits. Capacity is expected to grow with the new facility.
KEEPING KIDS IN MIND
The idea is that the new hospital will clearly be a place designed for children with input from children, Turner said.
The opportunity to have a voice in the planning is a responsibility patients and former patients take seriously, said Sarah Henderson, 18. The Wilton native, now a student at Grinnell College, was treated several years ago for stage 4 Hodgkin’s lymphoma at UI Children’s Hospital and now serves on the Youth Advisory Council.
Discussion about the roof of the new tower led to suggestions of a meditation garden or a walking track, things family members would like to use, she said.
Another Youth Advisory Council member suggested smaller lamps in the patient rooms, so families don’t always have to use bright overhead lights. The general consensus was to make the rooms feel less like a hospital and more like a hotel, she said.
“It seems small, but it’s a big contribution,” Henderson said. “Things that would help family members as well as patients.”