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The future arrives at Hopkins in new medical towers

The blue sofa bed means everything to Robert Hicks Jr.

Hicks, whose 5-year-old son spent his first five months fighting for his life at Johns Hopkins Hospital, would sleep in the waiting room or on a couch in the pediatric intensive care unit. Walking down the hall to go to the bathroom or get something to eat was nerve-wracking.

“That’s the longest walk,” he said. “There are opportunities where you don’t want to have to leave his bedside because you’re afraid, ‘If I leave my child this one moment, when I come back, will he still be alive?’”

When the hospital’s new 1.6 million-square-foot medical towers open in April, the families of future patients won’t have those worries — each patient room is private and has its own bathroom and sleep sofa, and a new 30,000-square-foot kitchen will make on-request meals available for adult, pediatric and oncology patients and their visitors.

The new 560-bed facility consists of the Charlotte R. Bloomberg Children’s Center, named in honor of the mother of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a Johns Hopkins University alum, and the Sheikh Zayed Tower, a cardiovascular and critical care center for adults, named after the first president of the United Arab Emirates.

Though the two towers only incrementally increase the hospital’s capacity, the real achievement is bringing the space up to modern standards, said Ronald R. Peterson, president of the hospital and the Johns Hopkins Health System.

The current Johns Hopkins Children’s Center was built in 1963, and the Halsted and Osler buildings, where many of the hospital’s sickest medical and surgical patients are cared for, were built in 1931.

“We found those buildings simply unable to accommodate new technologies that we required and the new expectations of our patients and visitors,” Peterson said. New technology “has simply outpaced the old facilities,” he said.

Construction of the towers took 4,700 workers, of which almost 1,000 were Baltimore residents, Hopkins said.

The hospital is also increasing its workforce by 700, including hiring more nurses, social workers, respiratory therapists, custodial staff and security personnel.

The capital investment and hundreds of new jobs “should make the community feel a little bit better about its economic prospects,” said Anirban Basu, chairman and CEO of Sage Policy Group Inc., a Baltimore-based economic and policy consulting firm. “We know that whatever happens, Baltimore will continue to be home to the headquarters of Johns Hopkins Medicine, and that’s an awfully nice headquarters to have.”

The $1.1 billion facility is an enormous green, blue, yellow and patterned glass construction that sits on 5 acres and is one of the nation’s largest hospital projects.

Meditation garden

In addition to the private rooms, the new hospital also aims to improve the patient’s experience with open lighting, a meditation garden and art.

The hospital worked with artist Spencer Finch to design the glass panels, which were inspired by Monet’s water lily paintings.

New to the Children’s Center will be a television studio, where patients can film interviews and game shows, which will then be shown on the televisions in each room.

“If you can’t get out of your room, and you can’t make friends, you feel very lonely,” said Patrice Brylske, director of the Child Life Department. The interactive television features are meant to “change the nature of play” and try to make a hospital stay feel as normal as possible, she said.

But some things won’t be normal — like the two-story indoor basketball gym and rooms equipped with Xbox 360 video game systems. Beds in the pediatric intensive care unit will be centered in the room and capable of rotating, in case a patient wants to look out the window, like when it starts to snow, said Claire Beers, nurse manager.

The hospital will not only focus on private care, but quiet care, too. Overhead paging has been “outlawed” in the new hospital, and all nurses will now carry cellphones, said Edward Kasper, chief of clinical cardiology.

The hospital’s emergency room will be 35,000 square feet — triple that of the current one — and will have 67 private exam rooms for adults and 32 for children.

The larger-than-a-football-field main entrance is also going to help with care, said Jim Scheulen, emergency department administrator.

One of the biggest problems patients have is getting to the hospital, and then parking once they arrive, he said.

The new main entrance can accommodate up to 200 cars and is directly across from the Orleans Street Garage, which will be exclusively for patients and visitors.

Daunting logistics

But the logistics of relocating a hospital are daunting.

“I don’t even know how you can add up the person-hours,” Scheulen said.

The space was designed with convenience and accessibility in mind — like having the radiology unit next to the trauma unit — but before the new emergency department opens at 7 a.m. April 29, they will run various simulations, he said.

While the specifics are still in the works, Scheulen said they will simulate what a typical day in the emergency room is like, in terms of the frequency and number of people that come in, and the types of emergencies that occur. The simulations will help familiarize the medical staff, which has already started preparing.

“We’d rather not wait until Day One,” he said.

Planning for the addition started about a decade ago. Construction spanned five years.

“This project is probably about 2½ times larger [in cost] than any [hospital] project that has been undertaken in Maryland,” said Ben Steffen, acting executive director of the Maryland Health Care Commission.

The project accounts for 20 percent of all capital investment in hospitals approved by the MHCC from 2001 to 2011, he said. That 10-year span included more hospital construction than had occurred in any previous 10-year period, he said.

Through a process called Certificate of Need, the MHCC reviews and approves all hospital and health care facility capital expenditures that go above a certain threshold. For hospitals, that amount was about $11 million in 2011.

MHCC approved Hopkins’ first proposal in February 2005. The towers, originally planned to be 10 stories, were at that time budgeted at about $578 million.

In May of the following year, MHCC approved a request for additional floors and increasing the budget to $802 million.

The final $1.1 billion, 12-story double tower proposal was accepted in early 2008.

“When we first began to think about this nearly a decade ago, we thought that we were talking about a project that might be in the $5 [hundred million] to $600 million range,” Peterson said. “While we were in the early phases of dealing with the superstructure of this building, we had a significant run-up.”

Much of that came from an increased worldwide demand for steel and other construction materials, as well as a surge in the cost of materials after Hurricane Katrina, he said.

Hopkins financed the new clinical buildings through private donations, state money, debt, and internal cash reserves.

$325M from donors

The hospital received $325 million from donors and $100 million for the state, and took $400 million in long-term debt. The rest came from its own pocket.

“That was one of the things that was striking,” Steffen said. “Despite the magnitude of the project, a significant portion of this was financed through existing funds that they held themselves.”

A hospital revising its projected cost is not unusual, especially during the construction boom that occurred from 2005 to 2008, Steffen said.

In 2005, the MHCC approved 11 new hospital projects. The previous year, it approved only four, which is about as many as were approved in 2010 and in 2011, he said.

Major hospital projects on the horizon for Maryland include a $394 million proposal to replace the Washington Adventist Hospital in Takoma Park with a new facility in the White Oak area of Silver Spring, on which the MHCC has not yet made a decision, and a new regional hospital in Prince George’s County that the University of Maryland Medical System and Dimensions Health Corp. have started to plan, Steffen said. MHCC does not expect a proposal on the Prince George’s County hospital until next year.

Other recent hospital construction across the state includes a $380 million tower that replaced the 1960s-era Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore and the $294 million Meritus Medical Center in Hagerstown that replaced the 100-year-old Washington County Hospital.