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Primary Children’s Hospital expansion nearing completion

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It was created with a theme of discovery throughout. t’s fun for kids, works well for families and is efficient for our clinicians. – Katy Welkie

SALT LAKE CITY — A need for space and a changing health care environment are driving the expansion of Primary Children’s Hospital, which is set to open in early October.

The 240,000-square-foot addition, connected to the existing hospital with a 300-foot skybridge over Mario Capecchi Drive, brings six levels including 67 new exam rooms and dozens of offices that will house faculty and clinicians from 40 University of Utah departments.

It will house 32 of Primary Children's clinics — including allergy, behavioral health, cardiology, comprehensive care, diabetes, dialysis, gastroenterology, neurology, rehabilitation, and Safe and Healthy Families — to accommodate an anticipated increase in outpatient patient visits. The new facility also houses a lab for blood draws and other tests.

"We have built for the future," said hospital CEO Katy Welkie. The majority of Primary's patients need long-term care involving follow-up visits for chronic illnesses that will likely last a lifetime.

"There's not anybody in the world who'd prefer to be in a hospital bed than at home," she said.

The new construction, specifically an outpatient facility, reflects that trend.

"In health care, more is shifting to outpatient care," Welkie said. "We want to have the care facilities that will take patients through their life."

The George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Primary Children’s Outpatient Services building also brings clinicians and researchers of many fields together after years of straddling the city in available spaces at Research Park or offices downtown. In addition to making new space to facilitate collaboration between specialties, the new construction frees up room for the hospital's oncology, surgery and orthopedics departments to expand in place.

Welkie, who led a media tour of the new facility on Thursday, said plans are already underway to renovate old, tight spaces in the main facility. And crews have left about 33,000 square feet of the new space untouched, to provide for future growth when necessary.

The new addition features the Mountainside Cafe, with colorful and vast seating areas to accommodate families. Welkie said "getting a treat after a day of doctor's visits" is something a lot of Primary Children's patients have come to expect.

Also in the new building is the Kids Club, a sibling play area, so, with some restrictions and rules, parents can drop off their other children and "focus and concentrate on the sometimes complex instructions the physician is telling them about their child with this illness," Welkie said.

For more than five years, the main hospital has struggled with having enough parking for its growing staff and the patients it serves. About 400 employees have had to park off-site and be bused to the hospital. The expansion removes that need, providing more than 900 additional parking spaces on-site.

The building earned a silver Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification by the U.S. Green Building Council for energy-efficient design and construction. It has automated window shades, window glazing to reduce heat gain and motion-activated lighting inside.

Its bright colors and creativity-inspiring patterns throughout bring whimsy to a location that might otherwise be daunting to children coming and going for various health conditions, which was a priority, Welkie said.

"It was created with a theme of discovery throughout," she said, adding that architectural elements maximize efficiencies. "It's fun for kids, works well for families and is efficient for our clinicians."

Members of the hospital's Family Advisory Council participated in the design process.

The expansion project, expected to cost $134 million, Welkie said, is "on time and substantially under-budget." Final expense figures are not yet available.

Primary Children's had 175,117 outpatient visits in 2013, and an average inpatient stay of less than five days. It conducted more than 2.8 million lab tests with a full- and part-time staff of 4,212, according to the hospital's annual report.

Local frim Jacobsen Construction completed the expansion project, employing more than 220 workers at the site each work day since the Sept. 6, 2012 groundbreaking. Workers entertained patients staying at the hospital by strategically placing a giant bear named "Boo Boo" in precarious locations throughout the work site, prompting welcome surprises from the kids.

The hospital serves a 400,000 square-mile area of the Intermountain West, including Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada and New Mexico, but patients come from all over the nation, as the facility is renowned for its services.

An invitation-only ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held Monday, Sept. 15 at 10:30 a.m. and the public is welcome at an open house at the new outpatient facility, located at 81 N. Mario Capecchi Drive, from 3 to 8 p.m.

Patients will begin visiting there on Oct. 7.

Primary Children's was originally founded by the LDS Church in 1922 and was funded in part by pennies, nickels and dimes collected from children in the church's Primary organization. The hospital was donated to the community via Intermountain Healthcare in 1975 and moved from its Second Avenue location in 1990.

This is the first expansion project to be completed since then.

Construction was funded in part by private donations, as well as nearly $1 million collected from Primary Children's employees.

Email: wleonard@deseretnews.com

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