Children's hospital progresses

October 12, 2009
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Right now, the new Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital has dusty cement floors and exposed pipes and multi-colored wiring.

To Dr. Robert Connors, the hospital’s president, there’s not a prettier sight in Grand Rapids.

“It’s exciting,” said Connors, a pediatric surgeon. “People in our organization have spent years thinking about this space and putting down plans.”

Spectrum Health last week offered a sneak peak into the curved blue building under construction on the site of a former parking area on Michigan Street. The public and the DeVos family have donated $103 million toward construction costs, which have climbed to an estimated $286 million. The 440,000-square-foot, 14-story building with 206 beds is expected to open in January 2011.

The two-story lobby will offer indoor and outdoor entrances, several play areas, an “interactive play wall,” a registration desk, gift shop, a shop featuring child safety items, a library and access to a garden, Connors said during the hard-hat tour. Serving as a main entrance will be a bridge connecting the children’s hospital to the parking area across the street, north of Michigan.

“When you see this building from the outside, it’s very, very blue,” he said. “When you look from the inside, it looks … almost like a regular window. That’s one of the fascinating things about the glass.”

The windows consist of two panes, three inches apart, which sandwich layers of film, he explained. The frosted lines are meant to deflect sunlight, he said.

Planned are six operating rooms, a cardiac catheterization lab, an imaging center, a neonatal unit and a pediatric emergency department. Each area must be flexible enough to accommodate children “from one pound to much bigger than I am,” Connors said. The hospital, which has one of the largest neonatal units in the country, treats children from birth to age 18.

Neonatal rooms in the new hospital will accommodate one baby and its parents, while the current neonatal space will be altered to provide the flexibility to house multiples, he added.

Because of the building’s oval shape, the regular patient rooms have a fan shape — narrow at the doorway and wider at the tall windows. At 370 square feet, the rooms are about one-third bigger than average and are expected to include a fold-out sofa to sleep two adults overnight.

“I think it will be much better than what we have now,” Connors said. “It’s crowded in our current space. This will be much better for privacy and for families.”

With small community hospitals leaving the pediatrics business, thanks to the specialized expertise required and a high proportion of Medicaid patients, Connors said he expects the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital to be busy when the doors finally open.

“It’s very challenging for small hospitals to take great care of children,” said Connors, who raised four of them with his wife, Julie.

“Many of them are increasingly relying on regional children’s hospitals to do that. We’ve already seen that trend in our area. We’re predicting steady growth for our children’s hospital over the next many years.”

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