Mission in Progress
With construction complete on Le Bonheur's new tower, pediatric research and mentoring intensify.
photographs by Larry Kuzniewski
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On November 12th, the new entrance to Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital at 848 Adams Avenue was officially opened, bringing three years and $340 million of construction and renovation to a close. At more than 600,000 square feet, Le Bonheur’s 12-story, LEED Silver Certified tower, which opened in 2010, contains 255 beds, a Level 1 Pediatric Trauma Center, and offers 40 specialty areas. Next door, the former patient floors occupying the old hospital buildings on North Dunlap have been fully renovated and now serve as the Children’s Foundation Research Institute, also known as the Research Center.
Prior to the renovation, research was spread out across the hospital among the specialty areas. Now, all of that research is done in one building. Two floors hold 15 to 20 basic laboratories, and three floors are designated for specific clinical and translational research.
“Anywhere between 50 to 100 studies and trials are going on at one time in the Pediatric Clinical Research Unit [PCRU],” says Dr. Jon McCullers, pediatrician-in-chief at Le Bonheur and researcher of pediatric infectious disease. “Right now, Dr. John DeVincenzo is working on a breakthrough treatment for RSV [Respiratory Syncytial Virus], which has been untreatable and in many cases requires hospitalization.” McCullers himself is leading a study on community-acquired pneumonia in hospitalized children with a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“The most recent pneumonia study of this kind had [fewer than 200] subjects,” says McCullers. “Here at Le Bonheur, we were able to study 988 children.”
With such a large patient base, Le Bonheur is an ideal place for important clinical studies and drug trials. Neysa Rhoads, clinical manager of the PCRU, agrees. “We have a lot of sick kids, and we have a great reputation,” Rhoads says.
In contrast to the new Le Bonheur tower’s bright, roomy lobbies, and large patient rooms, the Research Center is low-ceilinged and a maze of narrow hallways. However, the space has proven conducive to clinical research.
“The exam rooms themselves are still set up like regular hospital rooms,” says Rhoads. “A patient can stay for up to 23 hours, so having a private place to rest is helpful to the families and keeps the patients comfortable while they are here.” Down the hall is a room full of shelved binders, containing complete and ongoing studies that can be accessed by personnel quickly. Close by is a lab, where technicians collect blood samples with pre-boxed kits designated for each study, explains Rhoads. Now, patient lab work results can be delivered to doctors quickly.
Onsite lab work is part of the “bench to bedside” tactic McCullers says is key to disease intervention, and a freestanding research facility is central in attracting the best researchers and physicians as well as having the best studies. The old loose group scattered across the hospital has been formalized, given administrative structure, and its own defined space. Scientific writers, IT experts, and dozens of technicians have been hired to maintain the facility. Before, McCullers says, everyone had to do his own research, report writing, filing, and computer data entry.