A sneak peek inside the new Children’s Hospital of Chicago

Photos by Frank Pinc

It’s an understatement to say that designers of the new Ann& Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago have left no opportunity untapped to create a kid-friendly environment.

After 130 years of treating the most critically ill children not only from Chicago, but also from 35 countries around the world, Children’s Memorial Hospital moves June 9 to a new 5 million state-of-the-art facility at 225 E. Chicago Ave. that doesn’t stop transporting its technological prowess into the modern era. It envelops patients and their families in a milieu of tranquility, nature and art, all painstakingly crafted to ease the anxiety that comes with being in the hospital.

Among the highlights:

  • Crowning the 23-story, 1.25 million-square-foot hospital is an open-air sky deck garden rimmed with fragrant cedar and mullein with delphinium and ivy.
  • Aquamoon, a company of aquarium professionals who design aquatic habitat, teamed up with Shedd Aquarium to create a coral garden and tropical aquarium in the lobby. While waiting, families can marvel at some of the world’s most beautiful and exotic sea life.
  • Above the 11th floor Crown Sky Garden perches a tree house where young patients can climb and romp amid towering bamboo plants.
  • Vividly colored cartoon city scenes brighten elevators, while a painted airplane flies across the ceiling to lift the spirits of kids making a trip on a rolling bed.
  • A video wall of faces, produced by John Manning, who created the faces in the Millennium Park Crown Fountain, scrolls portraits of Children’s Memorial patients and kids from the Chicago Cultural Alliance.

“We know that children heal better when they’re less anxious,” says Julie Pesch, director of public affairs for Children’s Memorial. “When they can experience interesting, inspiring things, it can help take their minds off their illness and pain.”

Care inspired by kids

How did hospital planners come up with this stuff? They took their cues from the kids they treat. A klatch of about 10 teens on the Kids Advisory Board gave input that shaped the perks and pleasures they know firsthand will strip lots of the dreariness from a hospital stay.

One of the members, Ellen Gordon of Palatine, endured months-long stints as a patient while being treated for lupus and juvenile arthritis.

“When you’re sick as a kid, it’s really hard to interact in the real world,” she says. “Sometimes it’s more exciting to be in the hospital than to be in school because in a medical environment, everyone understands me.”

Now 19, she worked to ensure the sky garden-named Kevin’s Garden after former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s late son, who died before his third birthday from complications of spina bifida-became a sanctuary of nature instead of the high-tech video area some grown-ups envisioned.

“It’s so exciting to see this amazing building and know that I was one of the people who had a hand in making it this way,” she says.

Upgrades at last

Bells and whistles noted, what is really behind the Children’s Memorial move?

It was time, says Chief Nurse Executive Michelle Stephenson. Lurie offers many key advancements over the 130-year-old facility,

“Not only were we space constrained,” she says. “We were also technologically constrained.”

The hospital is re-fashioned in a way that better incorporates its web of medical services. Close proximity to Northwestern Memorial Hospital and the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago will better transition young patients to adult care. A pedestrian bridge links the new Lurie to Prentice Women’s Hospital-the largest birthing center in Illinois-to expedite care to critically ill newborns

“We’re looking for a seamless experience,” Stephenson says. “It will feel like one and the same facility.”

The updates incorporate the newest technology. That means operating rooms ready for minimally-invasive surgery and portable imaging that lets medical info follow the patient.

There are 288 licensed beds, all private rooms designed to control infection with new ventilation and hygiene systems. Rooms with full baths, fold-out sofas and recliners give families a more comfy space while there.

“It places emotional strain for a child to be placed in a room with another family,” Stephenson says. “The new rooms minimize controllable stress.”

Decentralized nursing stations keep nurses closer to patients and families.

The move also puts the children’s hospital closer to Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and will help the hospital recruit top pediatric specialists.

“For example, only about 15 new pediatric specialists graduate each year and half of those go back to their country of origin,” Stephenson says. “That leaves five to seven to meet the needs all across the country, so as you can see, attracting them is very competitive.”

Excitement in the ER

On the second-floor, Kenneth and Anne Griffith Emergency Care Center, Mary Otting and Bonnie Mobley, director of Interprofessional Education, were reveling in all the new enhancements.

The new emergency care center is more than twice the size of the old one. Doctors have been caring for 60,000 children in a facility built to handle 25,000. The new one will easily handle 75,000. Unlike most hospital designs, the ER is situated on the second floor, just above the ambulance garage.

Trauma treatment rooms can accommodate six patients at a time, for cases like auto crash injuries where more than one member of the family may be injured. Portable monitors containing computer records can follow patients from department to department. Private triage rooms lower tension by concealing critically ill or wounded patients from others.

“We used to have a fish bowl in the old building,” Otting says. “This keeps people from having to see stuff they don’t need to see.”

High tech aside, Mobley was just happy about simple things like accessible outlets at shoulder level instead of tucked behind cabinets near the floor.

“When there’s an emergency, every second counts,” she says. “Little things can do a lot to help us do our job more efficiently.”

Ellen Gordon, a nursing student at Loyola, now works as a certified nursing assistant in the infectious disease ward at Children’s Memorial.

“As an employee, I can really see how run-down the old facility is,” she says. “It will be so exciting to be working in such an awesome place.”


Where will families and visitors park?

Parking will be available in the Huron-St. Clair parking garage,
just across Superior Street from the hospital. There will be a
pedestrian overpass. Parking also is available in the Erie-Ontario
garage a few blocks from the hospital.

Will Ronald McDonald House move?

The Ronald McDonald House Charities of Chicagoland and Northwest
Indiana’s new Ronald McDonald House at 211 E. Grand will open in
conjunction with the new hospital. The new house is more than four
times the size of its existing facility in Lincoln Park and will
expand its capacity from 21 to 86 rooms.

What will happen to the current hospital in Lincoln Park?

The hospital’s current property will be sold. The hospital will
maintain Children’s Memorial Research Center on Halsted. The
Outpatient Center in Lincoln Park (at the intersection of Clark and
Deming) will remain open.

For more info, go to

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