Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the expansion of the state’s only children’s hospital is on schedule to open this fall.
The challenge of responding to a pandemic shows why Mississippi needs a state-of-the-art pediatric hospital, University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC) experts say.
“We knew in 2016 when the Campaign for Children’s of Mississippi was launched that we had outgrown the children’s hospital,” said Dr. Mary Taylor, Suzan B. Thames Chair, professor and chair of pediatrics. “Now, seeing the medical needs of the state during this pandemic, we can see how having an up-to-date children’s hospital is needed in a crisis as well as for the patients we see every day in pediatric care.”
Under construction since early 2018, the seven-story tower is still on schedule, said Brian Reddoch, UMMC’s construction project manager.
One of the things noticed during the state’s pandemic response, said Guy Giesecke, CEO of Children’s of Mississippi, “is how much better we’re going to be able to handle an emergency such as a pandemic in this new facility. We will have more private rooms, and the much larger footprint will enable more separation between different areas, such as our clinics, surgery, radiology and inpatient services.”
The $180 million expansion includes an outpatient specialty clinic, 32 larger pediatric intensive care rooms, a dozen operating suites and an imaging center designed for children.
The tower’s two floors of private neonatal intensive care rooms will allow for distancing needed to prevent the spread of infections, said Dr. Mobolaji Famuyide, chief of neonatology.
UMMC’s current space for the smallest and most critically ill babies is the only Level IV NICU in the state, providing the most acute level of care, but it was designed as an open bay for about 30 babies. About three times that number of critically ill newborns receive care there now.
“The new NICU provides us with private rooms for each baby,” Famuyide said. “Families will be able to stay with their babies within the confines of their own room and away from the next baby, which is critical in preventing the spread of infections in an already vulnerable population.”
Those improvements are on schedule despite the pandemic, Reddoch said. “Our construction manager and subcontractors on the project are adjusting as challenges arise and thus far have been successful in minimizing the affects.”
Brasfield & Gorrie is the project’s construction manager. The tower was designed by the architecture firms HDR, headquartered in Omaha, and Cooke Douglass Farr Lemons of Jackson.
Safety recommendations by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for work sites have been observed.
“We are within budget and on schedule for the tower to be completed before the end of this summer,” Reddoch said. Much of the hospital’s cost is being funded by the Campaign for Children's of Mississippi. Launched in 2016 by Sanderson Farms CEO and board chairman Joe Sanderson Jr. and his wife, Kathy, the effort has raised more than 80 percent of its $100 million goal.
Once the tower is complete, the massive task of outfitting and moving into the expansion will go from planning, which has been underway for more than a year, to action.
“Making the transition into this expansion a smooth one will involve all of us at Children’s of Mississippi working together,” said Chris Collado, clinical liaison for the project.
The University of Mississippi Medical Center opened its first children’s hospital in 1968. By the mid-1990s, the need for a larger, more modern facility was apparent. Following a philanthropic drive, the children’s hospital tower named for the Medical Center’s first pediatrics chair, Dr. Blair E. Batson, was opened in 1997.
In the 23 years that followed, the children’s hospital has been a lifeline for pediatric patients and their families, but advances in pediatrics at UMMC have meant that additional space, surgical suites and services are needed.
"Our medical team provides care that rivals the best children’s hospitals in the nation, but they are doing so in a hospital that has been outgrown,” Taylor said. “Soon we will have a facility that matches their skills.”