Focus and Health Care

Children’s Healing Center provides germ-free space

First-of-its-kind concept is in the midst of a capital campaign and hopes to open in September.

July 3, 2015
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Children's Healing Center
The Children's Healing Center is a recreational space where children with suppressed immune systems and their families can relax in a germ-free environment. Courtesy Children's Healing Center

West Michigan will welcome a new addition to the field of health care this fall when the first recreational center for children with weak immune systems opens its doors.

The Children’s Healing Center, 1530 E. Fulton St. in Grand Rapids, is an innovative year-round recreational center designed for children with suppressed immune systems and their families to connect with others in a germ-free environment.

The approximately 7,000-square-foot center provides a safe and clean interactive place for children coping with immune-suppressed illnesses such as cancer, kidney ailments and autoimmune conditions that put them at risk for infection.

When the center officially opens later this year, it will provide scheduled classes, free play and user-driven programming for children ages 3 through 18.

Amanda Winn, executive director of Children’s Healing Center, said the idea developed when she was diagnosed in 2009 with stage 4 Hodgkin’s lymphoma shortly before turning 22.

“I was treated at the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital here in town, and it was a need I had noticed when I was going through treatment,” said Winn. “Kids and their families were isolated, as was I, because of our weak immune systems and the threat for infection, so we were not really allowed to go into public places. I wanted to create a place to bring these people together in a safe and clean environment.”

With a degree in architecture from University of Michigan and working as a project coordinator for AMDG Architects, Winn began designing a facility that not only features clean environment amenities but also separate programming zones.

“We intentionally designed a facility that has quite a few measures that make it easily cleanable — so, no fabric or soft surfaces in the building as well as a HEPA air filtration system that filters all of the air, and the building is positively pressurized,” said Winn. “There are a lot of measures we took in designing the center to make it a place that we can keep clean and is similar to a hospital-grade environment.”

With an anticipated launch date for September, the center currently is in the public phase of an approximately $1.8 million campaign to support initial start-up, capital and operational costs.

The campaign includes roughly $650,000 in renovation costs to remodel the existing facility to include bright colors, four activity and programming areas, and clean environment upgrades.

“We did get a significant amount of gift-in-kind labor, materials and investment from professional services, architecture, engineering, and building and construction for the renovation portion of the project,” said Winn. “We had a pretty significant — about $600,000 — investment in the facility, and a good portion of that was donated.”

Community partners that donated more than $25,000 to the development of the center include AMDG Architects, which donated 100 percent in materials and labor; Grand Valley Automation Inc.; Armock Mechanical; Rockford Construction; Haworth, which also donated 100 percent in materials and labor; and Van Dyken Mechanical Inc.

John Kennedy, president and chief executive officer of Autocam Medical, said the West Michigan community is fortunate to have world-class health care facilities right in its backyard, and the addition of the Children’s Healing Center fills a gap by providing children and their families a place to take a much-needed break.

“We have been gratified at the tremendous outpouring of support we have received throughout our capital campaign, from gifts-in-kind and donated materials to donations from West Michigan community leaders,” said Kennedy, who serves as co-chair of the capital campaign with his wife, Nancy.

“The center is a true complement to other children’s services in Grand Rapids, and we look forward to collaborating with area businesses, universities, hospitals and other nonprofits to provide meaningful programming.”

With an annual operating budget of nearly $380,000, the $1.8 million campaign will also support three years of operation at $370,000 with $40,000 in contingency funds. The remaining finances needed to support annual operations will come from a monthly membership fee of $40 for a family. Memberships sponsored by donors will be available for families that could not otherwise afford to attend the center.

To ensure sustainability of the nonprofit organization, Winn said the program and business model is based on a fitness center, since the best way to describe the center is as a recreational facility.

“The families will have a small monthly membership fee that they will be investing and contributing to in order to use the center,” said Winn.

“That is one stream of revenue we have factored into a handful of strategies to make this a successful organization. I think it is really important for the families to feel like they are investing in the concept as well as giving us the ability to — if we have a massive flood of people — staff and adjust accordingly.”

More than 25 percent of the center’s operating budget will be allocated to maintaining a clean environment. Some of the processes incorporated into the design include the use of microbial resistance surfaces, filtered tap water along with state-of-the-art technology to ensure there is no standing water, and a rigorous medical screening process of members before entry.

“We developed a process with a couple of nurses and doctors in town that check their temperature and check for any visual signs of illness,” said Winn.

“We will rotate the program spaces so we are always doing a light cleaning of the program areas after they are being used, and then we will do a deep cleaning of the center every evening. We have been working with both Bissell and Amway in town with some products they have to really keep the spaces safe for our families.”

The program zones emphasize socialization, physical fitness and learning through the four zones known as exploratory play, active fitness, technology, and art and learning.

The center will be led by Winn as executive director and two program coordinators, one of whom will focus on internal programming and operations, while the other works on volunteering and development.

“We are also starting out with an intern who will support us in all of those areas, and then we will have volunteers who will probably transition to staff as we figure out exactly the hours and frequency,” said Winn.

“This is a first-of-its-kind concept; the first few months will be a lot of testing. We are going to have somebody who greets the families, screens them, and that person will be medically knowledgeable and trained staff or volunteers.”

Children’s Healing Center is partnering with local colleges and universities in the area to bring in student volunteers who are involved in recreational, educational and nursing programs. College and university partners include Calvin College, Grand Valley State University, Michigan State University College of Human Medicine and University of Detroit Mercy at Aquinas College.

“I think West Michigan has a very exciting investment in health care over the past five years, even since I went through treatment, and we are seeing all of the hospitals developing world-renowned programs and bringing in a lot of research,” said Winn.

“The families that come and visit or are being attracted to West Michigan, to be able to provide them a place where they can connect with one another and can supplement their health care with that social and emotional healing is really kind of fitting with what we see as the missing piece in the pie.”

Medical centers referring patients and families to the center include Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital, Mercy Health Saint Mary’s, Metro Health Hospital and Spectrum Health System.

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