New Children's Hospital: Long-Held Dream Becomes a Reality

This month’s opening of the new, state-of-the-art $207 million Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital represents the realization of a long-held dream. “We talked about having a children’s hospital from the very beginning,” recalls Cheston Berlin, Jr., M.D., a professor of both pediatrics and pharmacology who was just the second pediatrician recruited by the Department of Pediatrics before Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center opened in 1971.

Constructing a free-standing children’s hospital sometime in the future seemed logical. “Most of us who are active in pediatrics in a medical center-teaching and research environment received our training in a children’s hospital,” explains Berlin, who came to Hershey in 1971. “In fact, during the first three years one of our first faculty members, Frederic Garner, M.D., drew up plans for a three-story circular children’s hospital that would have been situated just off the original hospital building.”
For decades, however, concerns existed about both the need for a stand-alone children’s facility and how to finance it. Says Berlin: “The question was always, ‘Do we have enough patients, enough activity and enough faculty to justify having a free-standing hospital?’ Over the years it has become clear that the answer to all those questions is ‘Yes’.”
Today, Penn State Hershey Medical Center’s catchment area—one of the most populous rural areas in the nation—includes a million children. During fiscal year 2011, there was a total of 356,728 inpatient or outpatient pediatric encounters (ranging from inpatient stays to diagnostic tests), including 159,640 outpatient physician visits. The Department of Pediatrics faculty, which has grown to 125, is supplemented by another forty clinicians in surgical departments who are board-certified in pediatric care; twenty-five to thirty advanced nurse-practitioners or physician assistants experienced in pediatric care; and more than forty pediatric residents and a dozen pediatric fellows.
Spanning twenty-five years, the effort to raise capital funds to build the Children’s Hospital ultimately became part of a $239 million project that also included an expansion of the Centerview Parking Garage and construction of a new Support Services Building. Alumni, community residents, and corporations all committed to philanthropic gifts earmarked for the Children’s Hospital that have now exceeded $75 million.
Thanks to that support, work began on the new free-standing Children’s Hospital building in November 2009. With a ground floor and five floors above ground, the hospital’s 263,000 square feet of space is designed to promote a family-centered model of care that focuses on the unique needs of sick children and their families. It also includes areas that emphasize wellness and prevention.
According to Harold L. Paz, M.D., M.S., chief executive officer of Penn State Hershey Medical Center and Health System, it is extremely important for Penn State Hershey to have a facility that matches the state-of-the-art pediatric care the institution provides. “It really symbolizes our vision for the future, not only for pediatric care but also for health care in general,” says Paz, who is also Penn State’s senior vice president for health affairs and dean of Penn State College of Medicine. “As the only academic health center and free-standing children’s hospital across all of central Pennsylvania, we now have the only Level 1 pediatric and adult trauma centers as well as a Level 3 intensive care unit.”
“At the same time, the Children’s Hospital’s facilities and amenities are extraordinarily child- and family- friendly.”
Craig Hillemeier, M.D., the medical director of the Children’s Hospital, chair of the Department of Pediatrics and vice dean for clinical affairs, agrees: “The new building allows us to excel in the level of family-centered care we’re able to offer to provide the safest and highest quality children’s hospital experience. As a result of the support we’ve received from the entire Penn State community, there will be generations of children and families, as well as our medical students, residents and fellows, who benefit from the new building.”
“Having such a wonderful new children’s facility will greatly impact our ability to do research and create new knowledge.”
 Features of the hospital include:
·         a lobby and atrium that includes a family resource center; a play and performance area; a cafĂ© for family meals; a safety center offering child safety latches and bike helmets; as well as an outdoor courtyard designed especially for children;
·         integrated surgical units designed for pediatric patients within the Children’s Hospital itself, including minimally invasive technology and advanced equipment for infants and children;
·         a new electronic infrastructure, adaptable for future innovations, that will allow our physicians to communicate more effectively with each other, with nurses, and with families;
·         private rooms with a “zone” for families, including sleeping space so that two parents can stay with their children through the night;
·         specialized units that minimize infection risk and permit the use of advanced bedside equipment for treating and monitoring critically ill children;
·         expanded space for pediatric intensive care;
·         a pediatric radiology unit;
·         a state-of-the-art blood bank;
·         a pharmacy;
·         five pediatric-only operating suites;
·         two procedure rooms; and
·         a cardiac catheterization lab.
Including our off-site pediatric psychiatric and rehabilitation beds, the Children’s Hospital will have a slight increase over current capacity to 140 beds. But the patient and family experience within those rooms will be greatly enhanced. Instead of rooms averaging about 190 square feet—including many that had two or even three beds—all rooms will be private and, at about 320 square feet, be about two-thirds larger. With both a sleeper couch and a reclining sleeper chair in a dedicated zone to the rear of each room, this significant space increase will allow both parents, instead of just one, to sleep overnight in their child’s room. This dedicated zone also includes storage space for the families, nooks with outlets for laptops and cell phones, and a full bathroom so multiple families don’t have to share restroom and shower facilities.
That is a continuation of the philosophy instituted by the first chair of pediatrics, Nicholas Nelson, M.D. “At the time it was a radical change, but from the very beginning we never restricted visiting hours for pediatric patients,” recalls Berlin. “We encouraged parents to stay overnight.”
According to Hillemeier, the additional space also will allow for much more team-centered rounding. Besides just a physician, the whole care team, including nurses and various therapists, can all be in the room together with the patient and his or her family. Also, he says, for children undergoing surgery, during the entire perioperative period, services will be delivered “in an environment and by staff members really attuned to the needs of children and their families”—which is also true of children undergoing such procedures as biopsies or the insertion of central lines.
Hillemeier is also particularly proud of the amount of green space the hospital incorporates, including the outdoor courtyard off the first floor and a “green roof” on the third floor that will allow patients a way to get outside without having to navigate public space. In addition, the building incorporates natural light in most spaces and architectural details and finishes that evoke the natural world, such as the “waterfall” window on the east end of the building, and large wall images of plant and animal life that adorn many public areas. There is also a meditation space off the first floor “for families who need to be alone for a few minutes” in an environment surrounded by nature.
One other tantalizing feature: the Children’s Hospital is engineered in such a way that, should future needs dictate, three more floors could be added to the building. That would not surprise Paz, who witnessed a similar quick expansion a decade ago shortly after the Bristol-Myers Squibb Children’s Hospital opened as part of the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital.
“Because of the way health care is changing,” notes Paz, “more and more of these types of services are being provided at large academic health care centers and free-standing children’s hospitals, rather than at community hospitals, which are not providing inpatient pediatric services as much as they have in the past. Considering that ongoing evolution, having the ability to add additional space is extraordinarily important.”
Even in its current state, for Berlin the opening of the new Children’s Hospital symbolizes Penn State Hershey’s ongoing commitment to pediatric patients. “It’s a symbol of the importance that we attribute to the health care of the child,” he says. ”Having everything accessible in one place is an outward sign to the community that this is a place where all of the effort, enthusiasm and optimism is directed towards the child.”
Click here to read additional stories on the Penn State College of Medicine Alumni Update.