New Amplatz Children's Hospital almost ready for business

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Mock nurse drill
Respiratory therapists Lisa Manikhong (left) and Steve Matson (center), along with Adam Sakhitab (right), an RN from the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, work on a medical dummy at Amplatz Children's Hospital during a mock emergency drill on Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2011. Staff toured the new hospital to learn the layout to prepare for its slated April 2011 opening.
MPR Photo/Lorna Benson

The University of Minnesota Amplatz Children's Hospital will open the doors of its brand new facility on Sunday to anyone who wants to peek inside the colorful glass and steel building.

The hospital's official grand opening is still two months away. But the new building is mostly finished, and hospital staff are using the next few weeks to get familiar with the layout.

Even though protective wrappings still cling to some of the office chairs, and the computerized medical record system isn't functional yet, the new Amplatz Children's Hospital was humming with activity on a recent day as a group of nurses began familiarizing themselves with the new room layouts, equipment and even the alarm systems.

Nurse Lauren Ringe urges her colleagues to tilt their heads back and look at a light fixture perched above a patient room doorway. She pushes a button and the opaque plastic turned from a dull white to brilliant blue. That's the color used to communicate a potentially life-threatening situation in the room.

Then Ringe activates the system's audio alarm, which is much quieter than it is in the old children's hospital. That's by design. Amplatz officials wanted their new environment to be less stressful for patients and families.

Dialing back the alarm volume is just one the changes. The floor plan is also designed to shield patients from noise.

Amplatz Children's Hospital
The new University of Minnesota Amplatz Children's Hospital in Minneapolis, Minn. The hospital is slated to open in April 2011.
MPR Photo/Lorna Benson

Nursing assistant Gary Lingen stands in the middle of a long, enclosed corridor that is mostly out of view from the patient rooms that line the outer walls of the building.

This is one of the biggest changes from the old hospital. The center corridor is an inner hallway that is referred to as the off-stage area. It's intended to sequester all the work that isn't directly related to patient care.

"In our old hospital, our nursing station is in the middle of it all," said Lingen. "Some of us have stage voices like Ethel Merman, and you can hear them if you get in rooms near the desk. Some patients will complain."

But what patients may like has some nurses fretting. Jill LeBrun says she isn't completely sold on the new design.

"I have a lot of questions about the functionality of it," she said. "Like where the patient rooms are, how far they are from each other."

LeBrun suspects she'll have to cover a lot more ground on her new unit. That's partly due to the fact that there are more rooms in the new hospital -- each room has just one bed, not two -- and partly due to the added corridor space in the middle of the hospital.

Patient room interior
A patient room is seen in this photo provided by the Amplatz Children's Hospital.
Press photo from Amplatz Children's Hospital

Mary Jean Vickers, who helped put this nursing orientation together, expects such concerns will fade as staffers get used to the new design.

"I'm not surprised at the anxiety," she said. "I think they're going to like the environment. I think they're going to see this as really positive for the patients and families, and in the end, that's what we're all about."

All of the patient rooms in the new hospital are equipped with a large-screen television, a pullout couch, table and chairs, refrigerator, and a private bathroom with a shower. The conveniences are what Kurt Peterson lobbied for when he served on the parent advisory committee for the new hospital.

A few years ago, Peterson spent 37 days at the hospital when his 9-year-old daughter developed an e. Coli infection from eating contaminated beef. He says it was incredibly difficult to keep up with the demands of his job during that time.

"We weren't even really allowed to use our cell phones on the other side because they thought it might be an issue," Peterson said. "This facility is going to be totally wireless. If the family wants to bring their computer up and use the laptop, they're able to do that. They're able to stay in touch with the outside world even though they might have to be here in the room."

The new Amplatz Children's Hospital will open to patients on April 30. Last fall, Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota completed a major renovation on its Minneapolis campus that also added more private rooms and state-of-the-art technology.