The finishing touches, last minute details and supply stocking for Arkansas Children’s Northwest is underway. Talk Business & Politics on Saturday (Jan. 6) toured the new hospital which is slated to open in the next few weeks according to Arkansas Children’s CEO Marcy Doderer.
The project has been a labor of love and Doderer said this weekend the Arkansas Children’s clinic in Lowell is moving into the new hospital and will occupy the third floor.
“We said the clinic would open Tuesday, January 9, and that is going to happen. The hospital will be open to the public in a matter of weeks,” she said.
The construction project came in at $167 million, roughly $2 million over the early estimates and the timeline for opening was extended as construction took longer than originally budgeted given much of the custom designs weren’t even on paper when the project began.
Doderer said Arkansas Children’s is grateful for the widespread support the project received since the project was announced in 2015. There have been 14,000 donors who contributed $80 million toward the $70 million capital campaign. An $8 million gift from the Willard & Pat Walker Charitable Foundation put the campaign well over the goal. The Walker gift was announced and celebrated on Saturday with a gala event onsite at the new hospital.
“We are humbled and grateful to our friends and investors who have stepped forward with transformational support to improve children’s health,” Doderer said. “For two years we have been in conversations with the Walker Foundation and this gift is quite generous, but the Walker name has been synonymous with hope and generosity in Arkansas.”
Mandy Macke, associate director and secretary for the Walker Foundation told Talk Business & Politics the gift will support a brightly lit stairway that spans the height of the entire building. The tower will bear the name of Willard & Pat Walker Charitable Foundation. The gift also sponsors the third floor outpatient clinic as well as the helipad for the Angel One Transport Team.
Trisha Montague, chief administrator for Arkansas Children’s Northwest, told Talk Business & Politics about 90% of the hiring has been done and she’s pleased with the quality of professionals who have signed on to bring children’s specialty care to the region. She said there was good interest from professionals in surrounding states and the talent pool was deep.
Montague and Doderer said Arkansas Children’s does use traveling nurses on occasion to meet temporary spikes in demand. They said Arkansas Children’s Northwest is not relying on traveling nurses when it opens as all the nurses are employees. Hospital administrators said the payroll investment for the first six months of operation is roughly $16.4 million. The hospital is bringing 275 jobs to the region.
The hospital was designed with children in mind and from the garden and walking trails that surround the southern and western sides of the 233,623-square-foot building, to bright colors inside. The entire project was a mission to help sick children forget they are ill, hospital officials have said.
The first floor has an emergency wing that is welcoming and bright with adequate seating and an interesting ribbon pattern on the floor. The admissions department is adjacent to emergency and decorated similarly. From there, patients and guests will pass through a corridor with windows on one side and a massive tribute to the 14,000 donors who helped bring the facility to fruition. The wall features “Champions for Children” wall panels that are backlit to shine through colorful plexiglass panels of orange, blue, green, violet and pink at night.
After passing through the colorful tribute corridor there is a coffee shop — The Daily Grind — which is already open for the staff working onsite. A few steps further there is a gift shop that is not yet open. The gift shop is stocked with typical gifts for children but there is a an adult glass door entry and beside it a child’s door entrance, one of the fun details the designers wanted to incorporate.
The cafeteria is also located on the first floor. In the southwest corner of the building there is a glass atrium that spans all four floors. In that space is a massive tree sculpture that climbs three stories high. On the tree are colorful birds, which have been one of the ways the hospital has raised some of the funds. Donors who wanted to give $200, $400 or $600 were offered a bird in their honor. The local artist of the tree and bird sculpture is George Dombek, said Dan McFadden, communications director for Arkansas Children’s, who conducted the tour.
The bird motif is carried out throughout the hospital with the birds showing up in floor tiles, wall art and other signage randomly placed throughout the four floors. The surgical unit is on the second floor with five operating rooms for pediatric surgeries. McFadden said the large operating rooms are also equipped to facilitate telehealth procedures in the areas of allergies, asthma, urology and endocrinology. There are several prep rooms for surgery, but there are two staging rooms where the children and parents go before the patient goes into surgery. In these rooms there is a panel in the center of the ceiling that changes colors from blue to green to red and then violet before the pattern repeats. This is supposed to promote a calming effect for those in the room, McFadden said.
Also on the fourth floor there is the Family House with a large room for families while waiting for surgery or just to pass time while their loved one in is the hospital. This room has a kitchenette and is stocked with snacks and also has a small laundry room. There are games, a television and plenty of comfortable seating with a wide open view to the outdoors through a bank of windows on one side of the room. McFadden said the design incorporated massive amounts of windows that allow natural light to pour through the entire facility so there is a close connection to nature.
The third floor will be the outpatient clinic which is relocating from its Lowell site. No tours were allowed on the third floor because the clinic operations are in the midst of relocating. The clinic will open to the public on Tuesday.
The fourth floor contains the infusion center where children receive chemotherapy, and other exam rooms as well as family activity room. Each station where chemotherapy is administered has large windows on one side so the patient can see outside. There is also a television mounted for them to watch.
Montague said every detail in the hospital’s design and interior furnishings were made with children in mind. Children’s hospitals have a different feel than traditional health care facilities. While the local hospital is taking a bit longer to complete because of sequential permitting and certification processes for state licensure, the project has exceeded the expectations of she and Doderer who each say the hospital will be successfully provides care to the first sick child whose family doesn’t have to travel three hours to Little Rock for treatment.
A second goal is financial sustainability, until that time the Arkansas Children’s Foundation is prepared to offer support. The investment for the first five years is an estimated $427 million.