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Sacred Heart Plans New Children's Hospital

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Sacred Heart Hospital

Officials at Sacred Heart Health System are in the midst of observing their past, while also looking to the future. On Monday, they announced plans for a major expansion of pediatric health care in the region to include construction of a new children’s hospital.

“This is a great day, a great event in the history of Sacred Heart,” said Sacred Heart Health System Board Chairman Robert Emmanuel, noting another major milestone being marked during the celebration of their 100th anniversary. “And what better to contribute to that celebration than to announce our new children’s hospital. It’s certainly a landmark day for Sacred Heart and our community.”

Phase one of the expansion plan calls for a new children’s hospital that will be five stories high and encompass 120,000 square-feet. It will connect to the current Children’s Hospital, which was constructed in 1996, via a ground-level, glass-covered walkway. Features will include a new Pediatric Emergency Department and Trauma Center, six pediatric-dedicated operating rooms, a new Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), and expanded Pediatric Oncology care.

“This is a hospital that I would put up against any children’s hospital in America upon its completion,” said David Sansing, board chairman for Sacred Heart Hospital. “There are some great ones out there, but I think this one will compete and be right up there at the highest level.”

Standing in front of a large rendering of the new facility, Sansing touched on some of the many benefits it will offer.

First, the hospital will have more beds, adding to the 117 beds at the current Children’s Hospital, allowing for more specialized pediatric and maternity care.

“The opening of the hospital will generate approximately 100 jobs for our community and for the Sacred Heart family and will enable the hospital to recruit even more pediatric specialists,” Sansing said.

Services for children will be consolidated into one space, providing for better coordination and speed of services, especially important during emergencies. And, Sansing says the project is being done with one thing in mind…

"That is to make a child’s hospital stay better, everything from the look of the facility to the people they encounter, to their doctors, their nurses, the playrooms, the children’s rooms,” he said. “Everything is designed for children."

Phase two of the project will involve renovating the third floor or the current Children’s Hospital, which will remain home to pediatric services such as the pediatric intensive care unit and child life playrooms.  New services coming to the third floor include a pediatric inpatient rehabilitation gym and a pediatric satellite pharmacy.  Also, Sacred Heart’s Maternity Center will be renovated and expanded.

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Credit Sandra Averhart
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Sister Carol Keehan speaking during Monday's announcement at Sacred Children's Hospital.

Sister Carol Keehan says, once completed, it will be a far cry from what she described as ‘three dinky little’ pediatric units that served the area before Dr. Reed Bell and company laid the foundation for the first Children’s Hospital at Sacred back in 1969.

“We went from those three little pediatric units to a children’s hospital to a neonatal intensive care unit under the leadership of Dr. Reed Bell as our first medical director,” said Keehan. “And, it would be impossible to exaggerate Dr. Reed Bell and his importance. He believed and believed and believed”

Keehan now serves as chief executive officer for the Catholic Health Association of the United States.

But, she was just 25 when she came to Pensacola to help Dr. Bell and Dr. John Whitcomb get the hospital up and running. Early on, they brought in Dr. Ed Westmark, who became one of the first neonatologists in Florida and helped build the NICU unit.  Keehan would become its first director of nursing.

“What we did in ’69 was a huge step forward. What they did when they moved in here, another huge step forward,” Keehan said. “What was in ’69 is not good enough for today and what’s today is not going to be good enough for tomorrow” she added in applauding the forward thinking now that will attract the best caregivers in the future.

The main reason for the expansion now is increased demand for medical care at the region’s only children’s hospital, whose territory extends into Mississippi to the west and to the east of Panama City. Henry Stovall, president of Sacred Heart Hospital Pensacola, says they’ve essentially become victims of their own success.

“Our pediatric emergency room has been setting record numbers over the past year, but it’s on the far side of campus away from the children’s Hospital. We need to get that together,” said Stovall. “We do surgery on our children, combined with adults in the main operating room and children need their own space, their won operating room built to accommodate their needs. And, when it comes to caring for children with cancer, we’ve simply outgrown all of our facilities. We need many, many more.”

The actual design of the expansion, to include the new Children’s Hospital, is still in development. Also, the total cost is in the process of being researched. So far, $55 million has been committed by Sacred Heart Health System and Ascension, and Sacred Heart will have to raise the remaining funds needed for the project. Construction is set to begin by the spring of 2016, with completion set for 2017.

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Credit Sacred Heart Hospital
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Sacred Heart Hospital
Founders Display featuring Sister Carol Keehan and Dr. Ed Westmark.

In recognizing the history of Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital, Sister Carol Keehan and Drs. Reed Bell, John Whitcomb and Ed Westmark were all honored for their work in starting the facility 46 years ago. Monday’s event included the unveiling of a special “Legendary Founders” wall in their honor.

And, Keehan has an even bigger function on her agenda this week, as she is headed to the White House for this week’s visit by Pope Francis.

Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.