Lutheran Children’s Hospital is embarking on a $10 million-plus project that could allow it to provide the level of care that some families now drive to Indianapolis to receive.
Phase I, a $4 million project that kicked off Thursday, will make all pediatric patient rooms private and cluster them on the third floor of Lutheran Hospital. The children’s hospital follows the hospital-within-a-hospital concept.
The next phase will increase the number of pediatric patient rooms from 35 to 50, an official told The Journal Gazette after public remarks ended.
Lutheran Health Network officials are also considering investing in a comprehensive cancer center for children at the hospital, which would allow more local families to remain here during their children’s cancer treatment instead of traveling to Riley Hospital for Children, said Krista Peak, Lutheran Children’s Hospital’s executive director.
Lutheran officials need to do a better job of making the public aware of what the hospital offers, she said.
Dr. Jayesh Patel, Lutheran Children’s Hospital’s medical director for pediatric intensive care, agreed.
“We are living under the shadow of Riley,” he said. “Riley has been there for ages, so it’s not easy for people to grasp” all the childhood medical conditions that Lutheran Children’s Hospital can treat, too.
Lutheran already employs two pediatric cancer doctors and numerous other specialists, including those who treat children with diabetes, digestive disorders, developmental delays and breathing problems.
The staff continues to refer pediatric patients to Indianapolis for open heart surgery, however.
“Our vision is to be able to keep kids in the community with their families,” Peak said.
Brian Bauer, CEO of Lutheran Hospital and Lutheran Health Network, kept his remarks firmly focused on Phase I of the project.
“Sometimes I don’t think Fort Wayne realizes how fortunate we are to have the pediatric specialists we have here,” he said during a brief ceremony that included allowing five young patients on child-sized bulldozers to knock down a red and blue cardboard brick wall as the symbolic groundbreaking.
About 40 staff members, parents and children attended the lighthearted event.
Phase I includes moving the pediatric intensive care unit to the third floor from the second floor, Bauer said.
The hospital will be able to treat patients without interruption during the renovation because the fifth-floor addition, completed in 2011, freed up extra space on the third floor.
Lutheran officials clustered the hospital’s cardiac patients in the fifth floor’s four units. Two are designated for cardiac telemetry, which allows heart patients to walk around even as their vital signs are continually monitored.
One unit is for coronary intensive care, where critically ill patients are placed after invasive heart procedures or while waiting for heart transplant surgery. And the fourth unit is for heart failure care. Heart failure is a progressive, degenerative condition that comes in multiple forms. Potential triggers include virus, heart disease and cancer treatments.
In such patients, the heart muscle isn’t strong enough to pump as much blood as the body needs. Health care experts expect a dramatic increase in heart failure cases in the next few years, according to written material distributed by Lutheran.
The pediatric ICU will move into that third-floor empty area.
The first phase of the remodeling project, which is expected to be completed by the end of this year, won’t change the total number of pediatric in-patient rooms: 35. Phase II will add 15 pediatric rooms, Peak said.
Riley, part of Indiana University Health, has 300 private inpatient rooms, according to its website.
In most cases, patients ages 18 and older are assigned to the adult floors of the hospital. Lutheran Hospital is licensed for 396 total beds. Federal and state officials don’t limit how many of those beds can be designated for treating children, a Lutheran spokeswoman said.
Lutheran Children’s Hospital will keep its outpatient pediatrics clinic on the building’s second floor. The eye-catching treehouse-themed elevator will continue to travel exclusively between the first and second floors, Bauer said.
Officials are considering renovating one of the other elevators to fit in with the treehouse motif and carry patients and visitors to the third floor, he said. The hospital also has 24 beds for neonatal intensive care on the third floor.
Upgrades to the children’s hospital will include enhanced security. A special badge will be required to access the third floor, and children will be given wrist bands that alert staff if they start to leave the designated pediatrics area.
“Children are more vulnerable than adults in all aspects of life,” Bauer said, explaining why similar precautions aren’t being taken for adult patients.
The renovations will include new nurses’ stations, furniture, flooring, lighting, wall design, monitors and other equipment.
MSKTD & Associates designed the addition, and Weigand Construction served as general contractor. The Fort Wayne firms also worked on the hospital’s fifth-floor addition.
While planning the 16,000-square-foot project, hospital officials consulted doctors, nurses, other staff, parents and patients about what things were make the experience more pleasant.
As a result, renovated rooms will include expanded family areas with a sleeper sofa, desk and convenient electrical outlets. Additional requests being granted include flat-screen TVs, more visitor seating and a large waiting room with drinks and snacks.
Officials are exploring buying wagons with IV poles, providing kid-friendly snacks and discussing entertainment options that include Netflix.