Children’s Hospital of New Orleans has begun a major revamp, with a new leader who started last week and a series of renovations that will virtually remake the hospital’s campus over the next few years.
When the $300 million project wraps up in 2020, the only freestanding children’s hospital in Louisiana will have a renovated main building, a new outpatient pavilion able to accommodate more visits and an expanded pediatric cardiac intensive care unit with 28 greatly enlarged rooms.
Also in the works are an improved cancer center, apartments with 28 family housing suites and significantly bigger spaces for both emergency care and surgical services.
Children's has one of the area's busiest emergency rooms, and the renovation will bring the number of examination rooms from 29 to 46.
Overseeing the massive overhaul is the hospital’s new CEO, John R. Nickens IV, who started last Wednesday. Nickens — new to New Orleans but already sporting a Saints-themed tie — said he is aiming to reinvigorate more than the building.
"Somewhere along the way ... Children’s lost its mojo," he said. "Somebody just needs to remind them that they’re spectacular. I want to be that guy. It would be so humbling to be that spark plug, that energizer, that coach."
Nickens, 47, comes to Children's Hospital with nearly three decades of experience in the health care industry, having begun his career at Texas Children’s Hospital in 1990 and held various administrative positions at Baylor College of Medicine.
Now, in addition to the massive expansion, he's in charge of leading a staff of more than 1,900 in a hospital that recorded 157,275 patient visits last year, all part of a growing stable of facilities run by the nonprofit LCMC Health, which also includes University Medical Center and New Orleans East Hospital.
The construction work had already begun when Nickens arrived last week. The first phase, begun in June, includes a new parking garage, connected to the hospital through an elevated walkway. Some run-down former residences along Henry Clay Avenue were demolished to make room, and the work is slated to be finished by the middle of next year.
The broader project will also incorporate the campus of the former New Orleans Adolescent Hospital, which was acquired from the state for $29 million in 2014. Some residential buildings on that campus were torn down, and others, including the main hospital building, have already undergone remediation to fix damage from Hurricane Katrina.
The new outpatient pavilion on the hospital's main campus should wrap up in July, boosting capacity from 50,000 patients a year to 75,000. Work on a critical care and surgery tower atop the existing hospital will begin later this year, sporting more beds, bigger rooms and more sophisticated equipment. Altogether, the work will provide 230,000 square feet of new hospital space and about 100,000 square of renovated space.
In order for the work to be completed, the entire middle section of the hospital will have to be ripped out and replaced, part by part — all without disrupting care. Officials said that bit by bit, various services will be moved to the outer wings of the facility.
Renderings of the completed hospital show an expansive campus of shining glass buildings connected via raised walkways and a family garden with landscaping and outdoor seating.
What the renderings don't show are the new tools that will come with the renovation, including new equipment like robotic technology and special oxygen machines for very sick babies.
"For a guy like me, those are the toys of health care,” Nickens said. “They are the foundation of being spectacular. We have a brand new stadium, and it changes the dynamics of what we can do."
Nickens also stressed other changes he wants to bring, including data-based safety initiatives.
He said he expects patients at all partnering hospitals and facilities to be able soon to "pop in and out" of urgent care, receive better outpatient care and have less risk of contracting infections from their hospital stays.
"You’re going to see a dynamic, exciting and inspirational approach to health care," Nickens said. "Not just at Children’s but throughout LCMC. We are a system, and our health care here is unique."