It's not just patients and their parents who should celebrate this morning's opening of the visually delightful and technologically advanced All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg. The new $403-million facility is ultimately a gift to the entire Tampa Bay region, leaving us better prepared for a major disaster. It is a smart use of the limited real estate in the city's major medical corridor and cements the district's future as a hub for health care advancement.
This is a far cry from 1967, when the previous hospital rose just a few blocks away on Sixth Street S out of the legacy of the American Legion Hospital for Crippled Children, whose major work, treating polio, had been eliminated by the successful polio vaccine. Since then, All Children's has emerged as a considerable resource, primarily serving the children of 17 western Florida counties. It is one of only two freestanding children's hospitals in the state and one of the largest in the southeastern United States for treating pediatric cancer.
The new 259-bed hospital should lead to better outcomes with improved technology, such as a special airflow system to lower the risk of infection for cancer patients, and more spacious accommodations, such as trauma rooms designed so that siblings injured in an automobile accident don't have to be separated.
Most patients' rooms have breathtaking views of Tampa Bay and are outfitted with dorm-sized refrigerators, pull-out sofas and twin televisions in hopes of alleviating some of the familial stress that can come from being cooped up in a hospital. And multiple spaces have been set aside to engage children with all kinds of illnesses and afflictions in play, including an outdoor playground on the second-floor rooftop.
Beyond the child-centric atmosphere — polka dots mark the floors and furniture, whimsical art and saturated color dominate the walls — is a thoughtful plan for disaster, natural or otherwise. The hospital is expected to serve as a bulwark for postdisaster medical care. It has been built to withstand a significant hurricane. Major building systems are on the fourth floor in the interior of the building, not in a basement where rising water would easily damage them. The roof is strong enough to support landings by military helicopters. And the emergency room can accommodate up to 16 ambulances and has a specially designed decontamination unit.
There is also a separate entrance to the third floor that neighboring Bayfront Medical Center has leased for its new maternity unit, Baby Place. The cooperative venture helps All Children's with the facility's cost. It also means Bayfront now has room in its hospital to expand care, and mothers delivering at Bayfront will no longer have to leave the hospital to see babies in neonatal intensive care.
Today marks a brighter future for sick children in Tampa Bay and for St. Petersburg's role in the broader medical community.