“Hope. Compassion. Wonder. How can a children’s hospital instill these feelings in children and their families? First impressions are everything. What children experience at the front door of a hospital will color the impression of their entire stay. The exterior of buildings must befriend the full age spectrum, from infants to early adulthood. Parents and grandparents must be equally won with a sense of calm and reassurance. And the building must become a friendly neighbor to fit into the rich context of institution and community it serves.”
—William Mead, AIA, ACHA, “Designing the World’s Best Children’s Hospitals 2”
As Chattanooga’s renaissance has shifted its weight from the Tennessee River front to the more ethereal high-speed fiber optic network, the concept of an “innovation district” is now expanding beyond technology and Internet-based companies to encompass the city’s newly dubbed “Wellness and Innovation District.”
Plans are underway to transform the East Third Street corridor, home to Erlanger Hospital and the University of Tennessee College of Medicine Chattanooga, into an attractive, walkable space with streetscapes and rooftop gardens, affordable apartments and neighborhood cafes. Earlier in 2016, Erlanger Health System officials launched a $25 million campaign to pave the way for a new Children’s Hospital at Erlanger [ℹ️ City Guide] that will anchor the city’s new “Wellness and Innovation District” and provide a state-of-the-art healthcare facility unlike anything this region has ever seen.
Gateway to Chattanooga’s “Wellness and Innovation District”
While many people first think of Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville or St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis as the primary providers of pediatric specialty care in Tennessee, Children’s Hospital at Erlanger is the leading pediatric care provider for the greater Chattanooga area as well as the surrounding four-state, 50,000 square mile region. And markedly, over 90 percent of the area’s pediatric cancer cases are treated at Children’s Hospital at Erlanger.
“One of the things we work really hard on is we want quicker access than anybody else,” says Chief Executive Officer Don Mueller, FACHE. “If people call Nashville and it’s going to take them three months to get in and to be seen, we want to speed up that access.”
From Appalachia to suburbia to the urban core, Children’s Hospital at Erlanger treats over 100,000 patients each year, 60 percent of which are on government assistance.
While Children’s Hospital at Erlanger provides the area’s only pediatric emergency department and trauma center, with pediatric surgical suites and high level neonatal care, the hospital also expands its reach with a fleet of six Life Force helicopters stationed across the region, which happen to be outfitted with specialized equipment and staffed to care for infants and children.
“We have world-class care here, we just have an old building,” Mueller says. While Children’s Hospital at Erlanger has developed an outstanding reputation as one of the area’s leading academic pediatric healthcare facilities, it also happens to be housed in one of the oldest, built in the 1970s.
In January 2016, Erlanger Health System officials unveiled their plans for a new Children’s Hospital positioned on East Third Street across from the main hospital building. The first phase of construction focuses on the Children’s Hospital Outpatient Center. The 90,000-square-foot building will house pediatric imaging, lab services, pharmacy, and specialty clinics for cardiology, neurology, genetics, gastroenterology, and orthopedics. The second and largest phase will feature a 360,000 sq. ft. facility including the new Children’s Hospital, Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), and Women’s Hospital, which will also include labor and delivery.
The new facilities will incorporate innovative clinic design, according to Mueller. “It’s a culture change,” he says. “We will have a pod system for the exam space and no offices for doctors. It will provide more of an open work space that allows for greater collaboration between the doctors and staff.”
Erlanger Health System officials hope these new facilities will position Children’s Hospital at Erlanger not only to recruit world-class medical doctors and hospital staff but also to better serve the rapidly growing population of children in the greater Chattanooga area and surrounding region.
The long-term vision? “When completed, the new Children’s Hospital at Erlanger will be the gateway to a ‘Wellness and Innovation District’ that will spark the continued transformation of Third Street. The Erlanger Health System, the only academic health system in the region, will be a growing source of vitality economically and will continue to attract the best medical talent from around the world to Chattanooga.”
The Art of Building a Children’s Hospital
Architectural renderings for the new Children’s Hospital at Erlanger depict whimsical stonework and sweeping glass facades that incorporate a thoughtful reflection on Chattanooga’s favorite landmarks: its outdoors, the Tennessee Aquarium, the Creative Discovery Museum, and the Hunter Museum of American Art.
“The new building is designed to be an ever-changing piece of art,” says Julie Taylor, Chief Development Officer and President of the Erlanger Health System Foundations. “There will be an iPad at the front desk to change colors of the lights on the outside of the building at night.”
According to Taylor, the Arts at Erlanger program is already expanding to encompass the new Children’s Hospital at Erlanger with playful colors and super-graphics, wayfinding, and educational discovery centers where young patients can embrace their creativity and forget about their illnesses for a moment.
Welcoming patients to the lobby of the new Children’s Hospital at Erlanger will be an authentic steam engine built in 1891 (the same year Erlanger was founded) from the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum. Adding to the larger-than-life atmosphere, the Creative Discovery Museum is providing a fire truck cab, the International Towing & Recovery Museum is providing a tow truck, and Rock City is providing a Tree House.
Erlanger Health System hired Bruce Komiske, world-renowned children’s hospital expert, to oversee the design and innovation for the new Children’s Hospital at Erlanger. Komiske is editor of the series of books, “Designing the World’s Best Children’s Hospitals.”
As Komiske has met and spoken with Chattanooga thought leaders and local children alike, he has shared, “For many, the most important building in Chattanooga has been the aquarium. But in lots of cities, the most important building is the children’s hospital. It affects just about everyone, and it’s something everyone gets behind. There is big potential for that in Chattanooga.”
Leading the Way in World-class Pediatric Healthcare Innovation
As the new physical space for Children’s Hospital at Erlanger moves toward reality, Mueller and his team at Children’s Hospital at Erlanger are connecting the virtual resources of Erlanger Health System and the University of Tennessee College of Medicine Chattanooga to patients across the region through the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile and telemedicine.
Currently, the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile connects with 16 schools in Bradley and Polk counties, serving a population of approximately 7,490 students with 1,870 visits each year. These are students whose parents might have to take the day off from work to drive them to Children’s Hospital at Erlanger in Chattanooga otherwise, says Mueller. Through specialized computer workstations set up at their schools, these students can be seen and treated by healthcare providers back at Children’s Hospital at Erlanger in Chattanooga through telemedicine.
“We have the only care mobiles to offer telemedicine and it’s our goal to become a regional hub for pediatric telemedicine,” Mueller says. “This is a huge switch for us. We asked ourselves, ‘how do we take care of these kids in new and meaningful ways?’”
Poised for Healing and Transformation
As Children’s Hospital at Erlanger anchors in as the centerpiece of the East Third Street revitalization and a vital provider of pediatric care for the surrounding region, the “Wellness and Innovation District” is poised to offer that “hope, compassion, and wonder” that will set Chattanooga apart as an exceptional center of healthcare like nothing this region has ever seen before.
Renderings by HSK Architects