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Center of attraction

The new University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital stands out for all the right reasons, but child-centered care tops the list

By Martha Coventry

Dr. Joseph Neglia’s jobPhysician-in-chilef Joseph Neglia, M.D., M.P.H., says the new hospital building will provide a higher level of care for children and families. (Photo: Kristie Anderson) just got easier. As the Department of Pediatrics head works to recruit topflight experts in children’s health, he can point to the extraordinary new University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital as a very visible symbol of the University’s dedication to children. “Having the Amplatz Children’s Hospital will go a long way to attracting the most talented faculty members and residents,” says Neglia, who also is the hospital’s physician-in-chief. “They will see that the University not only has a verbal commitment to caring for children, but that it, along with Fairview Health Services [which owns the hospital], has also put resources into creating something exceptional.”

Pulling in the best

Pediatric emergency medicine physician Anupam Kharbanda, M.D., who joined the Department of Pediatrics last year, is just the type Neglia wants to attract. Kharbanda grew up in Minneapolis, graduated from Carleton College, and attended medical school at the University of Iowa. While chief resident at New York-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital- Columbia University, he moved along with the rest of the pediatrics department into a newly built child-dedicated facility where he stayed for five years as an attending physician.

Several years ago, he and his wife thought of returning to Minneapolis to raise their children. Kharbanda was attracted to academic medicine, but he wanted to work in a hospital where every single person was committed to children and adolescents. At the time, the University’s children’s hospital was on the fifth floor of its adult medical center.

“To have a truly child- and adolescentcentered hospital, all of the services — clinical, child-family life, radiology, pharmacy, etc. — have to be aligned toward a common cause and, ideally, under one roof,” he says.

When Kharbanda heard that the University and Fairview were going to build a hospital dedicated to that kind of singular care, he reconsidered.

(Photo: Brady Willette)

Building quality from the start

The new hospital rises above the more staid buildings on the West Bank campus of the University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview. Already a landmark, its shimmering skin of anodized steel changes color in the light. It stands out. And that’s a good thing. The University and Fairview want the new children’s hospital to be easy to find and easy to get to.

As the signature pediatric hospital of the state’s only academic health center, University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital must play a crucial role in teaching and in conducting research. It must also help the University convey to the public what pediatric research is and how it connects to a child’s care. Aaron Friedman, M.D., vice president for health sciences and dean of the Medical School, believes the hospital’s obvious presence will help build that understanding.

“What the Department of Pediatrics does no longer happens behind the walls of the University, it happens in a very noticeable building that’s part of a neighborhood,” says Friedman, who was in charge of the department until he assumed his new roles in January. “When someone points at the hospital and asks what goes on in there, we hope it will become easier to answer in a way that helps people see how research leads to extraordinary care.”

The best of care for all children

In the century since the University admitted its first pediatric patient in 1911, the Department of Pediatrics has become one of the best in the nation, making discoveries that have changed the face of medicine worldwide. Among its many groundbreaking achievements, the University performed the world’s first successful pediatric bone marrow transplant and open-heart surgery using cross-circulation between a child and parent, as well as Minnesota’s first pediatric living-donor liver transplant and infant heart transplant.

Such breakthroughs are in the works every day both in the hospital and in University labs. For example, by applying research that started in the lab, University doctors recently performed the world’s first stem cell transplant to treat recessive dystrophic epidermolysis bullosa, a usually fatal skin disease. Currently, this novel approach is the only viable treatment for children who have this devastating disease.

The University’s children’s hospital has always been the place for kids with the most difficult health issues and it will continue to be. But the new facility cements its role as a full-service children’s hospital that manages the continuum of pediatric illnesses, from tonsillitis to diabetes to rare cancers, with an equally high level of care.

“In order to be the center for training the majority of pediatricians in the state, and to be more accessible to referring physicians, we need to be able to treat common pediatric illnesses as well as the complex,” says Abe Jacob, M.D., director of the Pediatric Hospital Medicine Program.

Doing what’s needed for care and comfort

Some of the sickest children treated at University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital must stay in the hospital for weeks or months at a time.

For those families, the hospital room becomes a home away from home. In the former children’s hospital, the rooms were small, they had no comfortable place for parents to sleep, and they were often shared between two patients.

If the new hospital was going to set the standard for familyand child-centered care, that had to change. When it came time to design the rooms for the new hospital, patients, former patients, and their families met with the architects and select physicians and staff.

“We said to the children and their families, ‘Tell us how to build a hospital,’” says Neglia. “Then we just listened and learned.”

More space for kids who have cancer allows University pediatric oncologists like Brenda Weigel, M.D., to expand the number and types of therapies they can offer. (Photo: Brady Willette)

Based on their advice and needs, Fairview committed to building large, cheerful rooms, all private, with a wall of windows and space for parents to sleep, store their clothes, work on a computer, and fix and share simple meals. These exceptional rooms are designed to improve outcomes and accelerate healing. Through the Adopt A Room program, individuals and companies can cover the cost of more special features that let patients control many aspects of their rooms and stay connected with school, friends, and family. Other design elements keep disruption of the family and patients to a minimum. The hospital has lounges for parents, family education spaces, and playrooms on nearly every floor.

“It’s really important to have families stay with their children,” says pediatric resident Katie Larson, M.D. “It helps with healing, and parents gain the knowledge and confidence to care for their child when they go home.”

In fact, at University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital, parents are considered a crucial part of the care team, and physician rounds literally put them at the center of their children’s care.

“With family-centered rounds, we’ve essentially moved all of our discussions about the child from the conference room to the bedside, with the family present,” says Jacob. “It’s been proven that this type of care improves a family’s experience of the hospital stay and engages families more in the care of their child.”

Family-centered rounds also enrich the learning experience of medical students and residents, as do better, larger education spaces in the new hospital.

An exceptional message

Primary physicians in the community and around the country refer children to the University’s hospital for the treatment of many challenging diseases. According to Jacob, the new hospital’s location, facilities, philosophy, and technology will strengthen that connection.

“We deal with many referring physicians, who care deeply about their patients’ well-being,” says Jacob.

“With the new hospital, we can now assure them of four major things: that their patients and families will have easy access to our facility, that they are getting the most innovative care experience, that the care delivery will be family-centered, and that we will continually communicate with them about their patients.”

Those messages reflect a philosophy Kharbanda endorses and make him happy that he signed on with the University of Minnesota.

“With the Amplatz hospital, there’s the monetary commitment on the part of the University and Fairview, which is crucial, but equally important is their long-term commitment to making everything and everybody child- and family-focused,” he says. “This approach forges a different type of team, a children’s team, and I’m glad to be part of it.”

Martha Coventry is a freelance writer and editor who’s interested in medicine and the natural world.

To find out how you can make every chance possible for a child, please contact the Minnesota Medical Foundation’s Children’s Health Team at 612-626-1931 or or visit

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