On Monday, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center will cut the ribbon on its $600 million eight-story patient care expansion into Avondale. The building comes packed with medical and design innovations in the largest construction project in the Cincinnati region since Paul Brown Stadium in 2000.
“This building was constructed with the knowledge that for the most critically ill children, seconds and minutes count,” said Michael Fisher, chief executive officer of Cincinnati Children’s, as he kicked off a media tour Friday of the new facility. “This is a world-class medical building.”
The Critical Care Building expands capacity by 249 beds in rooms with advanced technology and personal touches suggested by families, patients, staff and the community.
Here are five things to know about the tower.
Tale of the tape
The expansion is 632,500 square feet of clinical space that includes a tripling of the emergency department to 90,000 square feet. There’s a helipad on the roof and dedicated elevators to bring the sick and injured right into the emergency department.
The 249 rooms are private and 50% larger than in the existing hospital, with more space for parents and family to stay with children. Respite areas include exercise rooms and showers, several family lounges on each floor, with business centers and laundry facilities that families can use.
The new tower is connected by walkways to the older hospital in Corryville.
Officials said 410 people will work in the new building, and as of Sept. 1, 349 had been hired. When the building is at full strength, Cincinnati Children’s workforce will be 16,773. The system is the largest medical employer in the region.
The first patients won't be admitted until November, hospital officials said.
Moving into the neighborhood
In 2016, when hospital officials unveiled plans for the building, some local leaders in Avondale complained that the historically Black neighborhood was being shoved aside. Dr. Monica Mitchell, a Cincinnati Children’s psychologist and the hospital’s key liaison with the neighborhood, said the construction took residents’ needs into consideration over years of meetings.
In 2016, as the planning for the expansion was going on, the hospital agreed to spend $11.5 million in the neighborhood to improve community and child health. The expansion and whether Cincinnati Children's should be required to invest more in Avondale became an issue in the city's 2017 election campaign, as officials were granting approval for it.
The expansion included renovation and upgrade of 14 nearby houses. Nine on Erkenbrecher Street, across from the new building, are for rent, and five on Wilson Street are for sale, with two already sold.
The building has four gardens, including one on the roof. One ground-floor garden is in a quiet north-facing nook of the building. Another is set aside for the staff and dedicated to Dr. George Benzing III, who performed the first heart transplant at Cincinnati Children’s. The fourth garden, in collaboration with the Avondale community, will sit on nearly an acre nearby.
Halls and lobbies hold more than 1,100 pieces of art from local artists, patients, family, community members, staff and students. Five large kaleidoscopes are built into the walls with portholes at child’s eye-level.
Walls, floors and flat surfaces were designed to be fun to touch and easy to clean.
Messer Construction was the general contractor. ZGF Architects LLP was the design firm.
The building does science, too
The 35 rooms of the new neonatal intensive care unit feature lights, specially developed at Cincinnati Children’s, to improve babies’ exposure to certain spectrums. Dr. James Greenberg, a neonatal specialist at the hospital, said the spectral lighting can be programmed at any wavelength of natural sunlight.
This innovation will support sleep cycles in newborns by mimicking sunrise, sunset and other differences in light exposure. “Nothing like it in the world,” Greenberg said.
Greenberg said the spectral lighting alone cost about $1 million, but many questions about human reaction to the spectrum of sunlight can be addressed with the innovation.
Lots of medical buildings going up
The pandemic has not slowed building in the region. Friday’s media tour was the second event this week to feature construction projects on Pill Hill, the nexus of medicine in Cincinnati.
Tuesday, UC Health broke ground on a $221 million expansion of its emergency department and surgery unit, which is expected to be finished in late 2023. Also expected to open then is Cincinnati Children’s new mental health care hospital in College Hill.
The Critical Care Building is Fisher’s crowning legacy. After 10 years as CEO, Fisher is stepping down by the end of this year, and a search for his replacement is underway.