Children’s Hospital expansion brings new life to Chicago Avenue

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“Our commitment is about more than the expansion,” said Children’s Hospital President and CEO Dr. Alan Goldbloom. “It’s about bringing life to Chicago Avenue,” Goldbloom said recently about design plans that will expand and modernize the Minneapolis health care facility in the Phillips Neighborhood with a $200 million-plus investment.

“We’re very concerned about making a positive addition to the neighborhood,” Goldbloom said. “The new building will appeal to people at street level,” he said. With completion expected sometime in 2012, the hospital will have a new glass-enclosed front entrance, and greenery and landscaping that will include a park on the northwest corner of 26th and Chicago.

Chicago Avenue has been closed since June 23 and will not reopen until September to accommodate construction of a skyway that will connect the hospital’s existing building with a new LEED-certified (energy saving) ambulatory care facility and a 800-space parking garage on the street’s west side. Inside Children’s, operating rooms will be modernized and emergency departments expanded. A new mother/baby center that will allow mothers to stay with their critical-care babies will be built. All beds will be put in private rooms—with plans to include at least 30 additional rooms—and all will have sleep-in space for parents.

“Private rooms are the new standard of care in pediatric medicine,” said Children’s media contact, Allison Sandve. “They improve infection control, provide more space for equipment and medicines and allow for fewer disruptive patient moves and enhanced privacy for patients and families,” she said.

“We had a two-pronged system for designing our new rooms—a family advisory council made up of patient families and a youth advisory council with a number of our 10-to-17-year-old patients. We gave the children drawing materials and asked them to make pictures of what they thought would be the perfect hospital room,” Goldbloom said. He said children colored brightly-painted rooms with big-screen TVs and DVD players.

“The architects loved it. Many of the design details that the children drew were incorporated into our plans,” he said.

City youths have also been incorporated into building hospital staff, according to Goldbloom. He said that Children’s supports the Health Careers Magnet Program at Roosevelt High and the Health Careers Institute that is part of Minneapolis Community and Technical College. That program began with an initial grant of $250,000 from the Allina Foundation and contributions of funding, space and equipment from Children’s, Hennepin County Medical Center and Abbott Northwestern Hospital. With clinical office space donated for classrooms within steps of both Children’s and Abbott Northwestern, about one-fourth of the students who first enrolled were employees of the sponsoring hospitals, and some 65 percent were students of color.

“And we’re seeing the fruits of those programs,” said Goldbloom. “We’re seeing kids come to us from very diverse backgrounds. The goal is to have a continuous pipeline of young, motivated employees,” Goldbloom said.

“It’s improved our patient care,” said Sandve. “Our patient population has changed so much in the last few years. When you’re in the already scary position of having to be hospitalized, it helps to have contact with someone on staff that you have something basic like culture in common with you,” Sandve said.

The hospital has also added a Department of Cross-Cultural Care to address the needs of patients from a wide variety of backgrounds. According to Goldbloom, the hospital had 45,000 interpreted appointments in 43 languages last year. Children’s now has full-time staff interpreters in Spanish, Somali and Hmong.

Children’s expansion will mean at least 150 new positions for nurses, imaging technicians, pharmacists, respiratory therapists and other specialists, adding to the increase of 2,236 hospital jobs offered in the local metro area this year alone, according to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

Paying for improvements has meant issuing bonds, taking money from cash flow and appealing for donations from the community. Children’s has come under the criticism that it has strained local philanthropic purse strings—that the funding of its own improvements could have been incorporated with the $175 million worth of improvements being made at nearby Fairview Riverside’s Children’s Hospital. Latest merger negotiations between the two hospitals fell apart last year.

“We couldn’t negotiate a financially viable agreement,” said Goldbloom. “It was a big disappointment for us,” Goldbloom said, “but it’s not very likely that we’ll return to talks about a merger anytime soon.”

Not that finances aren’t still a big concern for the hospital. According to Goldbloom, 40 percent of Children’s revenue comes from Medicaid, which he says is the single largest health insurer for children in the country.

“We’ll have to absorb 17 percent of the cuts in Medicaid payments statewide that were approved by this year’s Legislature,” said Goldbloom. “As it is, Medicaid pays only 80 percent of costs,” Goldbloom said.

As a native Canadian who has spent most of his career north of the border, Goldbloom would not be averse to a universal health care system here.

“Every system has it flaws and critics of any system always point to worst case scenarios, but as a civilized society we’ve decided that education, police and roads are something everyone should pay for—why not health care?” Goldbloom said.

As an independent, not-for-profit health care facility, Children’s Hospital does not refuse care to anyone based on their ability to pay.