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Arkansas Children’s Northwest Readies for Debut

6 min read

It was December when Marcy Doderer first walked the hallways of Arkansas Children’s Northwest without her hard hat on.

Construction on the $167 million, 233,000-SF hospital in Springdale was complete, and Doderer got her first chance to examine the finished product.

Doderer, the president and CEO of Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock, said the new hospital will open its outpatient clinics on Tuesday, but the inpatient and emergency departments will have to wait until regulatory inspections are finished.

“I have walked the space a number of times,” Doderer said. “Every time I’m up there, I am repeatedly astounded by how beautiful the design is that we executed upon. The spaces have been designed so we maximize outside light, and it is bright and cheerful.

“I think it really does symbolize discovery and delight, so the kids who come through there will find the art and colors are interesting. It will pique their curiosity and isn’t scary. It’s not very institutional.”

Doderer said 19 clinics that ACH had been operating in Lowell have relocated to the Springdale campus. Doderer didn’t expect any setbacks during the state’s inspections for the inpatient and emergency departments, but the methodical process prevented officials from naming a specific opening date for those operations.

That said, Doderer and Trisha Montague, the chief administrator of the northwest facility, expect the hospital to open this month or in early February.

“We are so very excited to actually take care of patients on our new campus in Springdale,” Doderer said. “We cannot give an exact date the emergency department and the inpatient side will be open. It’s not because of us trying to play coy; it’s really due to the way the state of Arkansas cautiously steps through licensing a new facility.”

Hospital officials and staff members are not waiting idly by in the meantime.

A Day in the Life
The hospital planned a full-scale simulation of operations at the Springdale campus on Friday, after Arkansas Business’ print deadline. Doderer said the simulation, which she called a Day in the Life, would recreate the real-life hustle and bustle of treating children at a full-service hospital.

“There is a lot of work to do,” Montague said. “Everybody here is working really hard and feeling, gosh, that pressure of being excellent in something. The energy is so positive and so high, and people are excited about going through the simulation.”

Doderer said trial runs would help the staff and administration find any flaws in operations and logistics: Flaws that could be as simple as a missing power outlet in a critical care room, a small detail that would loom large if something lifesaving needed to be plugged in.

Doderer also said having nurses and orderlies moving “patients” on stretchers through hallways could show which corners have problematic blind spots.

“The teams will simulate what it means to work and take care of patients in Arkansas Children’s Northwest,” Doderer said. “We will be moving in the corridors and moving in the departments in a simulated way to pretend to take care of patients so we can also find any of the unforeseen things. It’s the little things that happen when you start actually walking the facility pushing a wheelchair or pushing a stretcher.”

The opening of the outpatient clinics before the other departments gives the hospital another chance to smooth out any kinks. What may seem a setback — the hospital opening in separate stages — could actually be an advantage, a situation similar to a soft opening for a restaurant.

“It’s a crazy time, as you can imagine,” Montague said. “We’re getting ready to open our clinics on Tuesday as planned. We’re doing all that you can imagine.

“My confidence level is very high. I feel very confident about that [the outpatient clinics]. We get to do that piece really well. We learn a couple of the bumps along the way that we can quickly correct before we have the whole unknown of opening the emergency department.”

The outpatient clinics will be fully staffed, Doderer said. They had previously operated in Lowell, and many physicians split their time between Little Rock and northwest Arkansas.

That was great for the doctors’ frequent flyer miles; Doderer said the clinics on the Springdale campus will have full-time northwest Arkansas physicians.

“We have every position filled that we need to open our doors,” Doderer said. “If you were to go to our job board you still see positions posted because we know you need some flexibility. We posted every job we might want, etc. We are really pleased with where things stand to open the doors.”

Kid Friendly, Parent Approved
Any adult who has taken a child at the Little Rock campus or visited one there has recognized the difference in atmosphere that a children’s hospital provides. The walls have colorful paintings of animals, and waiting rooms are full of entertaining diversions for children.

The northwest campus will be more of the same, Doderer said. She said studies have shown that art and music help promote healing.

“I don’t think you could underestimate how important the physical design and the artful design is to promote healing,” Doderer said. “How do you create that gracious space that allows a family to relax a little and lean into the care they’re receiving? It takes away the intimidation, at least some of the fear factor, because it is often an unknown environment and unknown path forward. If you can distract the patient from some of the clinical, sterile institutional approaches to care, you lower their blood pressure, you lower their tension and you can be faster in how you deliver that care.”

Montague said she has given tours of the campus to benefactors, some of the people who helped the hospital raise nearly $70 million in two years. Many remarked on the aesthetics and attention to child-friendly details.

The focus is so keen that Doderer said the MRI room — a potentially scary place for a child who has to remain motionless for a long time in an exam tube — lets the child watch videos and choose the color of the ambient lighting.

“It’s a very moving moment for me, personally, walking through here,” Montague said. “It’s just the impact for this community, and it’s so meaningful to the people in this community.

“The facility is beautiful, and every person I have taken through has said how the pictures don’t do it justice: ‘It’s so much more than I ever imagined.’ The facility is really resonating with people with what we were trying to accomplish: a sense of hope and healing and light and all of those sorts of things.”

The Springdale hospital will have 24 inpatient rooms, 30 exam rooms and five surgical suites; by comparison the Little Rock campus has 350 rooms.

Doderer pointed out that the facility was designed for any expansion without disrupting operations as the need arises, which she expects will be the case in the booming region.

“We don’t know for sure exactly how many patients will come through those doors the first day,” Montague said.

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