• Article
  • September 17, 2019

Leader's Perspective: What it Takes to Build a Family-First Children's Hospital

Drawing inspiration from other children’s hospitals, one Florida facility redesigned various areas to be more patient and family centric.

Opening its doors earlier this year, the Studer Family Children’s Hospital at Ascension Sacred Heart in Pensacola, Florida, represents the single largest investment in Sacred Heart’s 104-year history. It also represents a growing trend among children’s hospitals in striving to provide a more patient- and family-friendly experience.

Children’s Hospitals Today caught up with Will Condon, president of Studer Family Children’s Hospital, to discuss how the vision for the new facility came together and what the future may hold.

Why was the patient and family experience such an important focus of the new hospital’s design?
What we've seen—not only at our children's hospital but throughout the country—is that if you can reduce the anxiety level of your patients and their families, kids are going to get healthier faster and outcomes are going to be better.

It's not big things, it's just small distractions. Whenever kids go to our CT scanner, they feel like they're walking in an aquarium. If you go into our X-ray fluoroscopy room, you feel like you're at the beach. We have small distractors in the hallways, like little “did-you-knows” about different sea life creatures. Anything we can do to get their minds off why they're here, we have found to be very helpful.

How did your team go about building that vision?
I would say there are two big factors. First, our team went on multiple tours of other children's hospitals. For example, our neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) was built almost exactly to the design of Children's Hospital of Alabama in Birmingham. We didn't have to reinvent the wheel. We went around finding people who are doing it well already, and then we brought that to Pensacola for the kids of this region.

We also spent numerous hours with different associates from around our organization—from nurses to techs, respiratory therapists to physicians. We also brought in past patients. The aim of those conversations was to find out what worked well in our old facility and what people would have loved to have seen that we couldn't provide before.

What advice would you give to other hospitals taking on construction or expansion projects?
My number-one piece of advice would be to include your patients and their families early and often in the design process. We would not have built the facility we have today if we didn't include those families early on.

It's small things. It’s a family room on each floor where they can go get a cup of coffee. It's a fourth-floor outdoor garden that we have on our medical/surgical floor. It's about providing areas for families to just get away for five minutes, take a deep breath and get ready to go back into the patient care setting.

With the new facility now complete, what’s next?
Well, we’re not done building out the hospital. Among our upcoming projects is the construction of a 12-bed pediatric oncology unit. In addition to the 12 beds, we’re including a family space. A lot of these families are with us for months at a time while their kids get treatment, so we're going to provide a living room, a full-service kitchen and an exercise room. The idea is to help these families feel as much at home as possible while their kids are being treated for cancer.

Beyond our building, it's about growing our ambulatory footprint throughout the Gulf Coast region. We are working hard to expand the care we provide out into the communities we serve. Whether that’s providing rotating sub-specialty clinics and expanding our primary care network for pediatrics, we want to take health care to where people live and not expect them to have to travel all the way to the hospital campus.

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