How do you move a hospital?

June 11, 2012

Download Story
(PRNewsFoto/Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago)
The new Ann and Robert H Lurie Children's Hospital officially opened on Saturday, June 9. 126 patients moved from the old Children's Memorial Hospital in the Lincoln Park neighborhood to the new location in Streeterville.

Patients are now settling into their new rooms at the new Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital. Staff members and patients from the old Children's Memorial Hospital made the big move this weekend. WBEZ tried to find out: How exactly do you move a hospital?

In this case, you start early – really early.

Ambulance crews started showing up at the old hospital before sunrise on Saturday. By 5:30 a.m., Orchard Street in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood, was lined on both sides with the 25 ambulances that would bring 126 children to their new rooms.

News crews, nurses and photographers swarmed the first kid to move: five-month-old Emiliano Velazquez. Emiliano looks really tiny swaddled up on the big stretcher he’s lying on. Nurses let out a loud, collective, "Awwww," when they see him wheeled out of the hospital. He was born premature and has a muscular disorder so he's hooked up to all sorts of machines.

Listen to Lee Bey discuss the hospital's architecture on Afternoon Shift

But once the show is over, four years of planning start to become a reality.

Inside the hospital looks a little bit like the last day of school – rooms are empty of everything but the essentials. Furniture has been pulled out into the hallways and chairs are stacked on tables.

Doctors have to see every patient before the move. Are their papers all in line? Do they have all their medications? Do they have their favorite stuffed animal?

There’s a note outside 11-month-old Lukas Ebben’s room that says he has to have Mickey and Minnie Mouse with him when he moves out.

Before I go into his room I have to suit up in a yellow gown and mask. The nurse and the hospital spokeswoman I'm with have to show me how to put it on.

Lukas has been through almost 20 surgeries since he got Children’s more than a month ago. His mom Krystle has been right by his side for numerous health issues since he was born, including cysts in his lungs and septic shock.

Lukas is hooked up to lots of machines and tubes. He's constantly on multiple medications.

"When we first got here, we didn’t imagine even remotely being here for the move, you know, and then when he got the eliostomy, he got the reversal, I told Lukas, well that’s your ticket to the new hospital, don’t worry we’re gonna see it," Krystle said.

Krystle says she's excited about Lukas’s “new digs” but she’s nervous about transporting him. She points to her stomach to show me where Lukas has stiches.

"His abdomen is open from here to here, and it’s kinda stitched up, and so there’s a little spot left that hasn’t been stitched, so that’s my concern," she said.

Krystle says the nurses have been fighting over who gets to move with Lukas, and that helps ease her worries.

Lukas’s turn to move isn’t until later in the afternoon. He and mom and grandma will be anxiously waiting until then.

As many families here know all too well, sometimes the unexpected happens. An extremely loud and jarring alarm went off while I was visiting one of the floors – we had to leave immediately. Doctors and nurses sprinted through the hallways and it was obvious something was wrong.

Later, a media spokeswoman told me it was a false alarm.

Meanwhile, downstairs, it’s a little less hectic. Patients are coming out one by one on stretchers. It’s the first time some of these children have been outside for months. As one kid comes through the doors, his nurse says to him: "How does it feel? Nice out, huh?"

Once the child is loaded up safely, off they go.

Over at the new Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children's hospital, city emergency officials make sure each ambulance travels the three and a half mile trip without a hitch.

The new hospital is a striking change from Children’s memorial. The walls are made of glass, and there are huge whales hanging from the lobby ceiling. Bright signs are everywhere, showing parents exactly where their child needs to go if they need care.

For most of the morning, ambulances flow into the garage almost seamlessly. Some of the hospital's new neighbors peer into the garage to see the children be unloaded.

But eventually, things start to really slow down.

Officials say the more critical patients take longer to pack up: 40 minutes to pack them up, about 10 minutes to drive, and then another 40 minutes to move them in.

Lukas arrives about three hours after his scheduled time. Krystle gets out of the front seat as the transport team unloads Lukas from the back. She's a little shaken up. The leader of the ambulance crew tries to assure

"Okay buddy we’re almost there, almost there," he says.

They wheel Lukas into a nearby elevator and everybody crams in.

When he finally makes it to his room, it takes more technicians 10 minutes to get him to his new bed. One of the doctors counts to three.

Lukas makes it, safe and sound.

It took fourteen hours to move all the children from one hospital to the other.

Krystle says now that Lukas is settled, she’s got a new focus.

She wants Lukas home for the summer, so he can see fireworks on the fourth of July – and not through a hospital window.