Over the past few weeks, steel bars and concrete sheets have sprouted from a dirt field along the south side of Interstate 10 between Essen Lane and Bluebonnet Boulevard. Over the next two years, this bare steel superstructure will steadily transform into the six-story Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital.
Once complete, this $230 million facility will serve as the freestanding home for the hospital, allowing it to vacate space it’s long shared with Our Lady of the Lake’s main hospital at 5000 Hennessy Blvd., across Essen. Both hospitals are part of the Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System.
As part of its independence from the adult hospital, the new children’s hospital will have its own emergency room. And it is being designed with children in mind, including having playrooms on every floor.
“This is really the only children’s hospital in Louisiana that is being built from the ground up,” said its chief medical officer, Dr. Shaun Kemmerly.
Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital broke ground Feb. 18 on a new $230 million hospital…
Soon to join the hospital on this 66-acre tract is a $14.5 million medical office building. It will serve as a home for the many pediatric specialists the new hospital hopes to attract. And it’s not being shy about courting these prized doctors.
“We are very aggressively recruiting pediatric specialists,” said Caroline Isemann, an OLOL spokeswoman.
One early recruit is Lori McBride, a pediatric neurosurgeon, one of eight in Louisiana. Dr. McBride has worked the past 12 years, the last three as chief of pediatric neurosurgery, for Children’s Hospital New Orleans. That 62-year-old hospital incidentally is the only freestanding, full service children’s hospital currently operating in Louisiana. For years, because of its wide array of pediatric specialties it has been a destination for sick children in the state and the Gulf South.
The new OLOL Children’s Hospital also has other enticements for pediatric specialists: more opportunities to conduct medical research, and spots on the faculty for the Lake’s seven-year-old pediatric residency program, which would expand.
With the new hospital, the Lake also is looking to expand its partnership with St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. One floor of the new hospital will be dedicated to St. Jude patients, offering inpatient hematology/oncology services, including chemotherapy. Memphis-based St. Jude pays all the bills for children who come through its doors and those of its eight affiliates.
The newly hired executive director of the proposed Baton Rouge Health District is excited ab…
Once rare, children’s hospitals have popped up across the country in recent years.
In a 2011 series of articles, McClatchy and Kaiser Health News found that children’s hospitals were often highly profitable, offering several reasons: a greater percentage of children are insured than adults, federal programs such as Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program heavily subsidize care for children from low-income families, and limited competition combined with providing an essential service translates to leverage to negotiate favorable prices with health insurers.
Children’s Hospital New Orleans has done well in recent years. Between 2011 and 2015, its annual net income ranged from $21.8 million to $206.4 million.
Suzy Sonnier is executive director of the Baton Rouge Health District. Led by the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, the fledgling district is a collaborative initiative by medical providers in and around the Essen Lane medical corridor.
Sonnier said not only doctors but developers and real estate professionals are watching closely the progress of the new OLOL Children’s Hospital.
The health district is currently working on an infrastructure plan to ease traffic congestion in the Essen corridor, but also make the place more amenable to walkers and those riding bikes. She said such efforts can help seal the deal for medical professionals interested in coming to the area.
“We certainly know that having a place that is a great place to work, a great physical place to work, can be critical,” she said.
Construction of the Lake’s new children’s hospital has had its challenges.
Originally expected to be complete by late 2018, projected completion has been pushed back a year to late 2019. Isemann chalked up the delays to the August 2016 floods and frequent rains that have slowed construction.
And the hospital is still trying to finish raising $50 million to complete the 350,000-square-foot facility.
When construction began in spring 2016, about half of that $50 million had been raised. Since then the total raised has grown to $41.5 million, leaving about $8.5 million left to secure.
John Paul Funes, president of Our Lady of the Lake Foundation, said the donations would help pay for equipment, health and wellness programs for patients and “unique and special items” that make the hospital, treatments and procedures less scary for patients.
OLOL has set up a special fundraising webpage, “Let’s Build Amazing!” It includes stories of children whom the hospital has cared for, artist renderings of the new facility, and time-lapse photos taken by drones every 15 minutes documenting construction progress over the past 18 months.
Although built to be much larger than its current home, the new Children’s Hospital will open with just 80 beds, the same as it currently has. The new building, though, will have room to expand to as many as 130 beds. And by adding seventh and eighth floors, the hospital could increase to 210 beds.
That’s would still leave the new hospital smaller than Children’s Hospital New Orleans, which has 247 beds.
Kemmerly, however, said the number of beds is not the whole story since most children will be coming to the hospital on an outpatient basis.
“The hospital is reserved for the sickest of the sick,” she said. “Generally you want patients out of the hospital.”
Kemmerly said the overriding drive behind the new hospital is to improve the care of children by giving them their own special place to get the help they need.
“Children are unique. They are a special group,” Kemmerly said. “They require special equipment. They need special IVs, special intubation tubes. Everything is different in how we care for them.”