Children’s Memorial will move kids 1 by 1 to Streeterville site

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A terrarium called Kevin’s Garden which is located in a outdoor patio courtyard at Children’s Memorial Hospital. Thursday, March 1, 2012. | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

Tornadoes tearing across Lake Shore Drive, rock-throwing G-8/NATO protesters, wastepaper baskets with or without lids.

Maureen Mahoney must consider it all as the woman in charge of the three-mile move of Children’s Memorial Hospital in Lincoln Park to its new $855 million Streeterville campus, at 225 E. Chicago.

Employees are set to start moving in late May, and the patients – all in one day – on June 9.

“There is a cast of thousands working on this,” Mahoney explained recently during an interview in her second-floor office above the White Elephant Resale Shop on Lincoln Avenue.

Almost every square inch of her desk and conference table is taken up with piles of documents – nearly all connected to the move of people and supplies, with an estimated cost of $30 million.

Mahoney – who started at Children’s in 1984 as a staff nurse – keeps a notepad by her bed, to scrawl a note when something occurs to her in the middle of the night.

No part of the move has consumed Mahoney and her staff more than getting some of the Chicago area’s sickest, most fragile children and babies safely from one hospital bed to another.

“For a parent, that is their life and they are entrusting us with their baby,” Mahoney said. “It’s a huge responsibility.”

The hospital expects to move up to 200 patients, one by one in an ambulance, with the most sick children and babies having a team of up to six people on board, including a Children’s nurse, a doctor and paramedics.

“A lot of our children have six to eight pumps going, and they have multiple tubes coming out of them,” Mahoney said. “A tube could get dislodged.”

If the patients on June 9 are similar to the current ones, there may be a baby with a heart defect, some dealing with chronic asthma.

There’s a good chance 4-year-old Rusty Schultz will make that trip. Rusty has inoperable brain cancer, and he spent most of January and February in the intensive care unit at Children’s.

Rusty’s parents, Adam and Mimi Schultz of Valparaiso, say they have no concerns about the ambulance trip.

“The drive from here to there in an ambulance, with everything we need, fully staffed – Rusty would probably enjoy a ride out of the hospital,” said Rusty’s dad last week, as he and his wife tried to ease their little boy’s pain. “He’s in isolation all the time. He would probably think it was cool.”

For the Schultz family­ – in the scheme of things – the trip is a minor inconvenience.

“He’s used to being poked and prodded and moved,” said Adam Schultz. “So this is a new normal for him.”

The patient move starts at 6 a.m. June 9, and it’s expected to last anywhere from 10 to 18 hours, as ambulances make the trip east on Fullerton Avenue and then south on Lake Shore Drive. Fullerton will be closed off to normal traffic during the patient move, but – with the exceptions of cones along the on-ramp – Lake Shore Drive will operate normally, Mahoney said. Someone has been assigned to watch the weather, just in case there’s a freak event – like a tornado – forecast for the week of the move.

From bed to bed, the trip is expected to take as long as two hours for the most fragile patients. And then, there’s always the unexpected.

“A child who we think is ready to move at 8 a.m. might all of a sudden require surgery an hour later,” Mahoney said. “A child’s status can change very quickly. We have to be prepared for that.”

“Buddy,” a stuffed bear, will accompany each kid, and one parent will be allowed to sit up front in the ambulance, Mahoney said.

And throughout the day on June 9, both emergency rooms will be open for parents and their kids – but ambulances are being sent only to the Streeterville location.

Mark Wietecha, the president and CEO of the National Association of Children’s Hospitals, said overland hospital moves are rare – mostly because a new hospital is typically built in the same location as the old one. But Wietecha expects the Children’s Memorial move to go smoothly. He compares it to flying an airplane: The take-off, or the early part of planning a hospital move, may be tricky – but probably not the landing.

“They’ve put a lot of time and effort into staffing [the move], what services will go first and second,” Wietecha said. “You’ll have everyone working double shifts and extra time to make sure there are enough employees in both places.”

There’s no manual to read for a hospital move, Mahoney said. Each is different, and there are thousands upon thousands of details to consider, which is why planning for the move began in 2008, Mahoney said.

“Start early,” said Mahoney, whose preparations included visiting 13 other hospitals across the country to see how others made the move. “If you start late – there are so many details to attend to – you get tripped up.”

And even if you start early, you have to be prepared to make a sudden detour.

Two months ago, for example, Mahoney learned the G-8/NATO summit would be in town about the same time as the hospital’s 4,000 employees were set to begin moving to the new location. Mahoney decided to delay the employee move until after the summit and cancel some employee training scheduled for that week. She also made sure she had a board-up company ready to go in case protesters went on a rampage near the hospital and started hurling rocks at the hospital’s glass facade.

“It’s one of those things where you say, ‘It is what it is,’ ” Mahoney said.

In 2007, Jerrod Milton oversaw the eight-mile move of Children’s Hospital Colorado in Denver to Aurora. Like their Chicago counterparts, the staff in Colorado moved all 111 patients in one day.

“It’s very risky to contemplate keeping a hospital with two [locations] for more than 24 hours,” Milton said. “You have to have all the support services in both locations – a lab, a pharmacy, respiratory care, doctors and nurses, two emergency departments. … There aren’t enough resources to do that safely for more than 24 hours.”

Milton said his hospital moved 111 patients “without incident” in 24 hours.

Milton’s advice to the folks in Chicago?

“This is a monumental achievement for that hospital,” Milton said. “It should be a celebration.”

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