The New Golisano Children’s Hospital

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We Can Change Their Journey

The new Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida, on the HealthPark Medical Center Campus in south Fort Myers on Bass Road, off Summerlin Road, is a technological wonder, full of the latest cutting-edge equipment to provide the best treatment for our youngest patients. It is, however, the amenities for the entire family that sets our region’s newest hospital far apart from all others.

A public Open House was held Saturday, April 1st and the Island Sand Paper participated in a special media tour Friday morning.

Golisano Children’s Hospital
Color coding and themes for each floor.

The facility consolidates into one location the medical and ancillary specialty services necessary to treat critically ill or injured children throughout our five-county region. It has 128 patient beds, with the capability to expand to 160. Its interactive design components and color-coded theme throughout its 7 stories and 300,000 square feet will captivate young patients and their families. The hospital, that will officially admit patients early next month, will keep children close to home to obtain world-class medical care from infancy through age 18, and is the only such center from Tampa to Miami. “Because of our ability to expand, we will treat every patient who requires care for at least the next decade,” emphasizes Kathy Bridge-Liles, its Chief Administrative Officer.

Why is the new hospital necessary? In its final full year next door in the existing HealthPark Medical Center in 2016, current Golisano inpatient admissions were 5,180 children, including 1,020 premature and critically-ill infants. It saw over 67,000 outpatient visits and 25,000 emergency room trips, while providing more than 1,200 inpatient and 4,000 outpatient surgeries.

But the new hospital is much more than just superior treatment. “We asked parents and former patients what they would like, since they literally lived it,” relates Dave Kistel, Vice President of Facility Management for Lee Health. “What we heard over-and-again is a laundry, so we can stay with our child as much as possible. Another was, while they love their kids with all their hearts, if they have to watch one more episode of ‘Sponge Bob,’ their heads will explode, so each room has two televisions; one for kids and one with earbuds for the adults. We took that information and incorporated it directly into the design and layout.”

Joey with his parents on the 3rd Floor.

Treat the Entire Family

One focus family was Jennifer and Nick Naples. Their son, Joey, now a bouncing-around 8-year-old, was a micro-premature baby who was just 2 pounds at birth, spending his first 92 days in the hospital. Joey was their fourth child, all under 3! “It’s been a journey,” reflects Nick with welling eyes. “This is surreal for us. Situations like ours bring anxiety and apprehension; we didn’t know what to expect and you think the worst. It may seem insignificant, but when I look at these walls, full of large bright colorful photographs of healthy children, that can be very soothing; you can picture in your head and heart a happy outcome. That is so much better than our experience, where a long white bare hallway led into another long white bare hallway with a door. The new hospital is so far above that sterile feel. We have three other children and that old institutional feel isn’t good for them either, as the entire family spends so much time at the hospital. The new Golisano treats the entire family.”

Lisa Snyder and Chris Johnson are the parents of Chase, who was two years old when diagnosed with Leukemia in January 2012. “While he underwent treatment, we also had our nine-year-old daughter,” said Chris. “Suddenly your family lives in the hospital, every day, including holidays, and you have to work, on laptops and other ways, as you don’t ever leave, then one day you realize you don’t even have any clean laundry. Chase fought for two years, including a bone-marrow transplant, before finally losing his battle. He was such a passionate child, who was always more worried about the kid in the next bed then himself, that it was important to us to give of ourselves to the new hospital, on his behalf, as this staff became our family.”

Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida, island sand paper
Former patient and cancer survivor Julie Briggs makes a new friend at the Ronald McDonald Family Room!

“We had 507 design meetings, with families, doctors, staff, housekeeping and others,” explained Kitsel. “We also spoke to counterparts at new hospitals, to learn what they did well or would do different.” Each of its 7 floors has a color and design theme. “This is not just to set a positive mood,” says Kathy, “but is essential for identification, to help families find their way; for instance, if your child is on the 3rd floor, that is purple with wildflowers. If you step off the elevator and see a blue starfish, you know you are not at your necessary location. We hope this large building has a very small feel!”

The interactive design wall stops both children and adults!

Shhhh!

Families emphasized that quiet is crucial: “Once their child and family are asleep, any interruption inconveniences everyone,” says Kathy. “To cut down on trips each room has a unit containing 80% of all essentials. We designed these ourselves, because until this hospital, they did not exist!” All deliveries, food, supplies, and trash come to the central core that is completely separate from the rooms that are in “neighborhoods” of eight. “We keep all the noise to the center and away from patients and families; you won’t have a linen cart run through your room in the middle of the night.”

Another aspect unique to the new Golisano is every night, the building itself has a different “personality,” and it is its patients who set the mood! “Every large room window has its own GED lighting, with the kids setting it, meaning its outdoor look changes each night,” Dave explains with excitement! “When kids are in the hospital, they have little control over their lives, so this allows them a special creativity.” Each room features a Playstation and Sega-4. “We do not expect sick children just to lay in bed all day,” explains Kathy, “but to lead as normal a life as possible. You wake up each morning, brush your teeth, and start your schoolwork.”

If our one-person focus group of Joey, who tried every kid-friendly toy, device, electronic, interactive feature, and play area throughout our entire tour is any indication, the new Golisano is passing with flying colors!

Significant medical components include its Neonatal Intensive Care Unit with 64 private rooms that allow parents to spend as much time as possible with their infants including overnights. It has the area’s only Milk Lab to process and store mother’s milk for hospitalized babies, as well as “nesting rooms” where families take a day or two to learn to handle the medical needs of their infant “on their own,” with the security of the hospital and staff just steps away.

The new Golisano Children's Hospital
The new Golisano Children’s Hospital will admit patients in early May.

17 & Under

The new hospital has a dedicated pediatric emergency department, staffed 24/7 by pediatric emergency physicians. “This is separate from the current HealthPark Emergency Department that will be for adults only,” explains Kathy, “with all emergency cases age 17 and under coming here. It is strange being on the 2nd Floor, but this was necessary due to our region’s flood surge and hurricane construction restrictions. A ramp takes people directly to that level, so many may not even realize they are that high, while ambulance docks remain on the 1st Floor but utilize dedicated elevators.”

Other services include a Perinatal Intensive Care Center, Cystic Fibrosis Center, Sickle Cell Disorders referral center, Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Program, Prescribed Pediatric Extended Care Center, guest services, chapel, movie theater, laundry, Ronald McDonald Family Room and Greenleaf Grill, and a Child Advocacy Program that provides educational support to roughly 100,000 people in Lee and Collier Counties.

The final cost is $202 million, with exactly half from community contributions. “Thomas Golisano contributed $20 million,” relates Mary Briggs, Media Relations System Director for Lee Health. “But his came with a hitch and it was a big one – it was a matching grant, meaning we had to come up with a like number from other sources in 18 months; his challenge really spurred the Southwest Florida community into action, to make this dream a reality.” Total construction took just under three years; Lee Health has allocated an additional $40 million to renovate HealthPark’s former children’s area.

Golisano Children’s Hospital has over 400 specialty-trained pediatric nurses, 93 physicians, and 38 advanced providers. “The new hospital requires an additional 200 employees, with 50 new doctors and approximately 20 more nurses, as well as security, housekeeping, and support staff,” says Kathy. “Over 350 volunteers will assist the 700 staff members, as it takes more people to care for children than adults. If all we accomplish is a pretty building without first-class care, we badly missed the point.” The new Golisano is still looking for roughly 100 volunteers; to inquire contact Volunteer Services at 239-343-5055. For other details see www.leehealth.org.

“Health cannot define the lives of our young patients,” concludes Kathy. “All these things are essential to minimize their anxiety, to recover as best as possible. We can’t always alter every outcome, but we can change their journey for the better.”

Gary Mooney