- Associated Press - Saturday, April 23, 2016

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - The window frames of the new pediatric unit at Memorial Children’s Hospital will be different colors.

That’s just one of the many design details that will set the new space apart from the rest of the hospital, explained Michaeleen Conlee, raising her voice to be heard over the sounds of construction.

The executive director of women and children services was taking a few of her staff on a recent tour of the children’s hospital. It was the first time they’d been inside the new space and they were trying to visualize what it would look like when completed.

The nearly 116,000-square-foot, $50 million addition to Memorial Hospital of South Bend does not have exterior walls yet, but the three floors and support pillars are in place. It sits atop the Memorial Leighton Trauma Center and Memorial’s labor and delivery unit in South Bend.

An elevator at one end provides quick access to the rest of the hospital.

When it’s finished, the new space will include an expanded pediatric care unit, pediatric intensive care unit, pediatric hematology/oncology outpatient clinic and newborn intensive care unit. It will also have a rooftop butterfly terrace, a glass-enclosed atrium, a simulation training lab for clinicians and multiple spaces for families to spend time together.

Construction started in July of 2015 and the children’s hospital should be fully moved into the new space early next spring.

The hospital could use the expanded space.

In the past year, Memorial Children’s has seen an influx of patients in its neonatal intensive care unit. For example, in 2014, the average daily number of NICU patients was 23. Now, it is 30. The hospital has had to hire 24 nurses in the past eight months to keep up with the rising numbers.

More pediatric patients are also being referred to Memorial Children’s. Last year, it received a record 405 transports from its referral hospitals.

But the hospital also wanted to focus more on the patient experience.

The pediatric care unit will have 23 rooms and the pediatric intensive care unit will have 12, said Jennifer Tonkovich, director of pediatric services. All of the rooms will be private.

In the current space, staff has to consider patients’ ages, gender and diagnosis before placing them in a room with another patient, she said. “That’s our biggest challenge.”

The new NICU will be about four times the size of the hospital’s current space. It also will have 30 private rooms instead of the open pods the current NICU has.

“Some babies are there for two or three months,” said Diane Freel, director of the NICU. “That’s a long time for families to have to be there. They need that privacy to care for their baby as the baby grows and develops.”

Nine of the rooms will be couplets, she added, which means mothers who have to stay at the hospital can share a room with their babies.

Holly Farmer, of South Bend, appreciates this.

“I could have been one of those moms,” she said, explaining that she had to spend some time in the hospital after the birth of her daughters, Amanda and Erin, who are 13. Her husband, Nick, videotaped the girls in the NICU so that she could see them.

Farmer and her family have been involved in the new space’s design process from the beginning.

When architects were drawing up the plans, they surveyed current and former patients and their families about what kinds of spaces would be helpful. They focused not only on room colors and themes, but also on needs such as closet storage space and entertainment for patients’ siblings. Recently, families and staff voted on furniture pieces, rating them for comfort, ease of cleanliness and aesthetics.

“I have been so impressed and amazed by Memorial’s commitment to getting feedback from parents,” Farmer said, explaining that the hospital would hold meetings for parents who couldn’t come during the day to give a summary of what had been discussed at earlier meetings and to give them an opportunity to provide feedback on the plans.

All that input is taken into consideration, Conlee said.

To celebrate the end of this stage of the construction process, Memorial staff and patients have been signing the final construction beam.

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Source: South Bend Tribune, https://bit.ly/1SYl8Pw

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Information from: South Bend Tribune, https://www.southbendtribune.com

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